On Wednesday, Nov. 1, 100 Columbia graduate students left class at 3 p.m. to gather in the lobby of the International Affairs building in solidarity with students who have been the target of harassment and public-shaming campaigns for their alleged affiliation with Palestinian solidarity groups on campus.
Participants erupted into cheers and applause as dozens of fellow students streamed out of Hillary Clinton’s lecture from the classroom across the hall to join the demonstration.
Students at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) discreetly organized the walkout to avoid potential retaliation from the administration. Among the demands were calls for the administration to protect students’ safety, well-being, privacy, and right to free speech and academic expression on campus.
The Nov. 1 walkout was in response to a previous incident a week earlier, where a truck with digital screens displayed students’ names and photographs above a banner that read “Columbia’s Leading Antisemites.” Circling Columbia’s Morningside Heights campus, the trucks also displayed a unique URL for each student’s name that directs visitors to a webpage with their personal information.
The majority of those “doxxed” — which refers to a form of harassment in which an individual’s data is publicized with the intent of intimidating or silencing them — were SIPA students of Arab, South Asian and Muslim backgrounds.
Led by the conservative group Accuracy in Media, the “doxxing truck,” which had similarly targeted students at Harvard weeks earlier, was not the first reported case at Columbia attacking students who have protested the Israeli siege on Gaza and expressed concern for the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Students and faculty at Columbia have raised concerns over personal safety and freedom of expression amid escalating reports of doxxing, harassment, and acts of anti-semitism and Islamophobia on campus in the weeks following the Hamas’ brutal attack on Oct. 7 and Israel’s subsequent genocidal campaign against Gaza.
In response to the “doxxing truck” episode, 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, intimidation, and reprisals from potential employers,” aimed at students and other members of the community.
The letter also criticizes the administration’s failure to protect students. It demands the university take steps to “protect all of our students” while preserving Columbia as a “beacon for fostering critical thinking and opening minds to different points of view,” in reference to Colombia President Minouche Shafik’s earlier statement.
At recent on-campus protests against the Israeli siege on Gaza, participants distributed surgical masks and were encouraged to cover their faces to protect their identity.
“We have been careful to protect our members’ identities online and at protests and events,” said one anonymous Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member in an interview. “We are not intimidated, but we have voiced these concerns to the administration for weeks now.”
“I want Columbia to apologize to the Arab and Muslim students on campus. A lot of us don’t feel safe,” said another SJP speaker at a protest on Oct. 25.
On Oct. 12, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace set up an internal form to report harassment and anti-Palestinian bias in response to what it said was a lack of institutional support. These groups have also referred students to Palestine Legal, a Chicago-based organization that provides legal support to activists facing harassment and censorship.
The recently-doxxed students are members of student groups that released a joint statement in solidarity with Palestine on Oct. 12, according to the Columbia Spectator. The students’ information was allegedly taken from a secure online platform, Campus Groups, only available to members of the SIPA community. It is unclear how AIM was able to access students’ information.
“For my own safety, I am much more careful about how I express myself online, on campus, and in class,” one of the doxxed students said in an interview. Like others interviewed, they asked not to be identified by name.
The student reported the incident to the Columbia administration, and the case has since been referred to authorities. “I think it [doxxing] is going to get much worse,” the student said.
A student teaching assistant noted that two of the doxxed students had not attended their class since the incident. Acknowledging that it could be coincidental, “I would also be afraid to come to class,” said the anonymous TA.
On Friday, after two days of silence from the administration, SIPA Dean Keren Yarhi-Milo condemned doxxing as a malicious act aimed at “intimidating and sowing division within our community during a time already fraught with heavy emotion and political fervor.”
Over the past weeks, a series of statements from both the university and SIPA administration included brief denunciations of doxxing and vows to “refer cases to external authorities when applicable.”
Despite the spate of statements, some Columbia students and SIPA students, in particular, continued to express frustration with the response, pointing to its failure to protect students’ safety and privacy and the lack of concrete follow-up actions to support affected students.
“The statements have minimized the hurt and isolation felt by the Palestinian students and doxxed allies,” said an anonymous SIPA student in an interview. “The [SIPA] dean’s hollow statements and inaction show she is not actually interested in serving all students.”
“We’re tired of the ambiguous statements that do not reflect the wider SIPA community. We demand action,” echoed another anonymous student organizer in an interview at the Nov. 1 walkout. “We have been told that student leadership would face consequences for holding an ‘unauthorized gathering,’ yet we remain united in solidarity with the victims of harassment in our community.”
“We are here to express our concerns with the administration,” said another organizer in a speech that day. “As students at a public policy school, we all have the right to go to classes, express ourselves, and engage in critical conversations without fearing for our safety.”
As the class period ended, walkout organizers instructed participants to stay silent in anticipation for Dean Yarhi-Milo and Former Secretary Clinton to walk past the protest. Yet, as the lecture hall emptied, rumors circulated that the Dean and Mrs. Clinton had left through another exit.
The day before the walkout, Dean Yarhi-Milo announced the formation of a SIPA Task Force on Doxing and Student Safety to “prevent doxing, protect the identities and personal information of our students.” Some students at the walkout found the timing of the announcement suspicious, speculating that the administration had been alerted to the protest ahead of time.
The doxxing truck returned to Columbia’s campus the day after the walkout. In an email to the community, the new task force instructed members not to engage with the vehicle.
Note: Earlier today, Nov. 10, the Columbia administration banned both Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace from being official student groups through the end of the fall semester. Two days prior, they had issued a suspension warning for students that participate in peaceful protests, demonstrations, or disruptions as direct action.