By Claudia Villalona
In a flurry of open letters and announcements of new task forces, Columbia University officials and faculty this week have responded to a growing number of incidents of antisemitism, Islamophobia, doxxing, and other harassment of students in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.
In a statement Wednesday, Columbia President Minouche Shafik announced a new, faculty-led Task Force on Antisemitism as part of a “commitment to ensuring that our campuses are safe, welcoming, and inclusive for Jewish students, faculty, and staff.” Shafik said the initiative was a response to the “series of antisemitic incidents on campus [that] have been reported in the three weeks following the October 7 terror attack in Israel and outbreak of war in Gaza.” Later Wednesday, Shafik announced a new Doxing Resource Group tasked with increasing security for Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students who have been “doxxed” – a form of harassment in which an individual’s personal data is made public, with the intent of intimidating or silencing them.
Shafik’s announcements were among several recent responses to what the Columbia president last week described as concerns over personal security in the “extremely charged atmosphere” on campus. On Tuesday this week, Keren Yarhi-Milo, dean of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), announced the formation of a SIPA Task Force on Doxing and Student Safety to develop recommendations “to prevent doxing, protect the identities and personal information of our students” and “reduce tensions among various students and student organizations.”
Last week, a doxxing campaign by the conservative Accuracy in Media (AIM) group targeted a number of students from SIPA by driving a truck with a digital billboard around streets near campus. The billboard displayed names and photos of Columbia students that AIM claimed had signed onto an open letter in “solidarity with Palestinian resistance.” Captions with the photos branded them “Columbia’s Leading Antisemites.”
On Wednesday, dozens of SIPA students held a walkout in solidarity with those targeted in the doxxing campaign, the overwhelming majority of whom were from Arab, Muslim and Palestinian backgrounds. “We demand that the administration do more to protect all SIPA students’ right to free speech, prioritize student’s safety and well-being, and provide full legal support to the victims,” said one participant.
Also this week, over 200 Columbia and Barnard University faculty members signed an open letter defending students’ right to protest the Israeli siege on Gaza. The letter denounces the “egregious” forms of harassment, including “doxing, public shaming, surveillance by members of our community, including other students, and reprisals from employers,” that have targeted students and other members of the community. It calls on the university’s leadership to “do more to protect all of our students” while preserving Columbia as a beacon for “fostering critical thinking and opening minds to different points of view,” a goal cited by Shafik in an earlier message to the Columbia community.
In an opposing open letter, over 400 Columbia and Barnard faculty members said they recognized the need for “robust debate” but denounced attempts to “recontextualize” Hamas’ attacks as an “exercise of a right to resist” occupation. “We ask the entire University community to condemn the Hamas attack unambiguously,” the writers of the second letter said. “We are appalled by the spate of antisemitic incidents on campus since October 7 that are growing in frequency and are creating a hostile and unsafe environment.” Among those signing the letter were faculty members Shafik has appointed to head the new task force on antisemitism.
This week’s developments follow weeks of vigils and protests on campus from both pro-Israel supporters and students who expressed solidarity with Palestine and concern regarding the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Amid these demonstrations, tensions have escalated on campus. In addition to the doxxing and anti-Palestinian harassment, several incidents of antisemitism have been reported, including an assault of an Israeli student and a graffitied swastika found on campus. As a result, students from these communities have expressed concerns over their personal safety, fearing they are targeted for their political or religious affiliations and for exercising freedom of expression.
They have also criticized the university’s response, saying measures taken so far, such as limiting access points to campus and increasing the use of security firms and police, haven’t gone far enough.
At recent protests organized by Students for Justice and Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voices for Peace, as well as the Wednesday walkout organized by SIPA student leaders, participants distributed surgical masks and were encouraged to cover their faces to protect their identity.
“We have been careful in protecting our members’ identities online and at protests and events,” said an SJP organizer of an October 25 campus walkout protesting Israel’s siege on Gaza and the University’s ties to Israel. “We are not intimidated,” said the organizer, who declined to be identified to WSR, “but we have voiced these concerns to the administration for weeks now.”
Earlier, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine set up an internal form to report anti-Palestinian harassment in response to what it said was a lack of institutional support. The group also refers students to Palestine Legal, a Chicago-based group that provides legal support to students and activists who have faced harassment and censorship attempts.
“For my own safety, I am much more careful about how I express myself online, on campus, and in class,” one of the students targeted by the doxxing campaign told the West Side Rag. Like others interviewed, this student asked to not be identified by name.
The student did report the doxxing incident to the Columbia administration, and the case has since been referred to authorities. Nevertheless, “I think it [doxxing] is going to get much worse,” the student said.
Some students have expressed continued frustration at the administration’s response. The statements’ “minimal acknowledgment of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza” have only served to compound the “hurt and isolation felt by the Palestinian students and allies,” a SIPA student told WSR. “The Dean has shown she is not actually interested in serving all students.”
In a story posted Thursday, Columbia Spectator, a student-run news site, said students with pro-Palestinian views reported being spat at and called “terrorists” or “ISIS” on campus. In another story posted at the same time, the Spectator said it interviewed more than 50 Jewish students, including some Israelis, and found the majority said they felt unsafe on campus now. Several students reported they had been harassed physically or online, and some said they skip classes and avoid campus out of concern for their safety.
“As a Jewish and Israeli student, I have felt very unsafe on campus,” one student told WSR, speaking on condition of anonymity because of safety concerns.
“The tone on campus is extremely unpleasant, to put it mildly,” said Barnard College student Noa Fay in an interview with Fox Business. “This is a level of generational discord that we have not seen before,” she said. “As a woman of many identities, I have always felt accepted in these liberal institutions, and I now see that is conditional and does not extend to my Jewish identity.”
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