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A Statement From the Alumni of Columbia University

The signatories of this letter and the letters above include thousands of alumni from 20+ organizations representing a diverse coalition united in their support for the students, freedom of speech and assembly, and most importantly, the human rights and dignity of Palestinians. 

May 3, 2024

To President Shafik and the Trustees of Columbia University,

We, the undersigned Columbia alumni—a diverse body of graduates across Columbia’s various schools and programs, spanning cultures, religions, and faiths—write to express our firm and unwavering solidarity with all students, staff, and Columbia community members taking principled action to stop the University’s continued collaboration with the Israeli government’s ongoing genocidal violence against Palestinians. As a unified coalition, we each pledge to withhold all financial, programmatic, and academic support of Columbia University until the demands in this letter are met.

The student movement for Palestine is an ethically urgent one. Columbia University maintains an undisclosed number of investments with entities known to fund or profit from the Israeli military occupation, meaning that Columbia is financially and morally enabling the ongoing indiscriminate killing of  Palestinians. Students—who paid $1.53 billion in tuition last year alone—are rightfully demanding that they have a say in where that money goes. We are in full support of Columbia University divesting from Israel, and we are beyond appalled at how far University administration has gone to protect their investments at the expense of student safety and intellectual inquiry.

We condemn in the harshest terms the administration’s brutal repression of student speech and assembly, which culminated in President Shafik’s decision to call the NYPD’s Strategic Response Group (SRG) to violently storm campus on April 30th, shortly after the initial arrests of over 100 students on April 18th. Press and Legal Observers were both barred access to campus, allowing NYPD to make arrests without third-party documentation. The SRG has been denounced by the New York Civil Liberties Union for its “unchecked brutality” and disproportionate use of force. So far, we have seen reports that students were subject to military tactics, including the use of stun grenades, flash bangs, and gunfire; that police severely injured multiple students; that many were denied access to medication, food, and water once in police custody; that police forcibly removed Muslim students’ hijabs in the presence of men, an unforgivable violation of their religious rights; and other alarming instances of mistreatment. We hold President Shafik and her administration responsible for a total failure of their duty of care.  

Notably, the recent student protests follow years of student advocacy for a divestiture from Israel. Past votes have been ignored by the University administration. Most recently, the Columbia College student body overwhelmingly passed a divestment referendum (by 76.55%), which also included canceling the Tel Aviv Global Center and ending the dual degree program between the School of General Studies and Tel Aviv University. The Barnard student body voted on the same referendum with 90.99% voting in favor. The university refuses to reckon with these votes in good faith.

Peaceful escalation is a longstanding part of Columbia’s legacy of student activism—a legacy which Columbia itself often uses to recruit prospective students. On April 30th, 1968, exactly 56 years ago, Columbia student protesters occupied campus buildings to demand an end to the Vietnam War and Columbia’s planned displacement of Black and Brown communities. In response, the Columbia administration deployed the NYPD to suppress the peaceful student protest. The University has since admitted that it regrets doing so, yet eagerly repeated the same calculated repression.

In 1985, Columbia students with the Coalition for a Free South Africa initiated a three-week blockade of Hamilton Hall, leading to Columbia becoming the first Ivy League to divest from South Africa. History has since vindicated the fight against South African apartheid, and we are once again witnessing a youth movement lead the moral consciousness of the nation. We urge Columbia to learn from its own history—failures and successes alike—and follow the lead of its student activists at this pivotal moment.

Presently, Columbia University’s administration is using language about combating antisemitism and restoring order and safety to campus in order to justify their brutal assault on student protesters. We wholly reject this dangerous and intellectually disingenuous rhetoric. The signatories among us who are Jewish reject the narrative that any criticism of Israel or of Zionism is inherently antisemitic. The movement for Palestinian liberation, on campus and globally, is often led by Jewish people of many nations. Weaponizing claims about antisemitism to silence student speech is based on faulty logic, harms Jewish students, and distracts from true antisemitism, including the attempts by a craven American right to tokenize, exploit, and appropriate Jewish trauma and resilience.

Under the guise of “order and safety,” Columbia University has repeatedly failed to protect students of color from harassment and has actively engaged in the hindrance of their civil rights. As of May 2024, the University has failed to hold accountable the former Israeli soldiers who carried out a chemical attack on protesting students in January 2024, despite documentation confirming students’ exposure to toxic chemicals. In President Shafik’s testimony to Congress, she dismissed the use of the chemical weapon as just an “odorous substance.” This exposes an alarming difference in disciplinary action taken against students based on identity and political ideology, and further contradicts any claim Columbia administration may make about creating a safe and diverse campus.

For the reasons above, the undersigned alumni pledge to withhold all financial, programmatic, and academic support until the following demands are met, via good faith collaboration with Columbia University Apartheid Divest (CUAD):

For Palestinian Liberation and Human Rights

  • Divest from all companies and institutions that fund or profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide, and occupation in Palestine.
  • Ensure accountability by increasing transparency around financial investments.
  • Release a statement calling for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

For the Safety, Dignity, and Civil Rights of our Students

  • Drop charges against student activists and reverse expulsions, suspensions and disciplinary action. 
  • End the policing and militarization of Columbia’s campus by removing and banning the NYPD. Continuous NYPD presence on campus until May 17th is unconscionable.
  • Finance the healthcare needed for the students brutalized by the NYPD on April 30, 2024.
  • Return and reimburse students for their stolen and vandalized belongings.
  • Reinstate Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace consistent with principles of free speech and academic freedom.
  • End the targeted repression of Palestinian students and their allies on campus.

For the Safety, Integrity, and Well-being of Columbia and Surrounding Community

  • Hold accountable faculty members, administrators, and any other University affiliates who have harassed and assaulted student human rights defenders.
  • Sever all academic ties with Israel, including Columbia’s Global Center in Tel Aviv and the GS Dual Degree program with Tel Aviv University.
  • Invest in the Morningside Heights Community by ceasing its expansion, provide reparations, and support housing for low-income Harlem residents. No more land grabs in Harlem, Lenapehoking, or Palestine.
  • Remove Minouche Shafik from her position as University President.

In the last 209 days, over two million Gazans have been displaced and over 42,510 have been killed. The students’ words have reached the besieged population of Gaza, many of whom are now grouped around Rafah, anticipating invasion. The University must now act boldly in support of Palestinian life and liberation—a sentiment echoed throughout Columbia’s own Core Curriculum, scholarship, and purported values. Anything less is a betrayal of the core lessons we were taught at Columbia University.

Alumni in Solidarity

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