Seven Columbia University students currently occupying the campus’s iconic Low Library building in an effort to push the administration into fossil fuel divestment have been threatened with suspension.
On Thursday, April 14, 35 students from Columbia University began a peaceful sit-in outside President Lee Bollinger’s office to demand the University divest from the top 200 publicly traded fossil fuel companies. Later that day, most of the students left upon being asked to leave, leaving a smaller group who intended “staying until President Bollinger meets our demand of a recommendation for full divestment.” At the time, information from Columbia Divest for Climate Justice mentioned that these remaining students were “risking potential school sanctions or arrest.”
A day later, the 16 remaining students entered President Bollinger’s office with the intent to stay until he “meets Columbia Divest for Climate Justice’s demand of a public recommendation for full fossil fuel divestment.” By Saturday that number was down to 9 students, and later Saturday, 2 more students left due to “personal commitments.”
On Monday, things began to escalate as an email from the Rules Administrator and Executive Vice President of Student Life, Suzanne Goldberg, was sent to the 7 remaining protesters threatening them with suspension.
“Suspension threats are the administration’s way of bullying us out of Low Library,” said Lucas Zeppetello, SEAS senior and Columbia Divest for Climate Justice organizer currently continuing to occupy Low. “They seek to drain our morale and demoralize the group. This strategy has failed largely due to the support we have received from on campus groups dedicated to peaceful protest.”
Although the group’s intention was only to disrupt President Bollinger’s office, the entire building has been on lockdown since Thursday. In the face of such action against them, the 7 remaining protesters are nevertheless committed to continuing their protest until President Bollinger recommends divestment.
“Students’ strong passion demonstrated for this issue has received praise from many, including President Bollinger, and for this reason, we believe suspension or expulsion would be an overly severe sanction,” wrote Columbia College Student Council in a statement to be published on Monday.
While it is difficult to comment specifically on Columbia University’s existing rules and regulations regarding such activities, the students appear to have been following the mandate of “peaceful protest” to the letter, which only serves to paint Suzanne Goldberg’s actions as exaggerated and excessive. According to Columbia Divest for Climate Justice, Goldberg is beyond her remit in threatening suspension.
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