Columbia University Protests: An Archive of Student Protest and University Sanctions

This webpage archives the historical record of student protests at Columbia University since the twentieth century and documents the history of the sanctions that have been meted out by Columbia University.



On April 24, 1968, a sit-in began in Hamilton Hall, catalyzing the occupation of four other Columbia University buildings by students protesting the U.S. government’s involvement in the Vietnam War, amongst other demands, including those of the civil rights movement and other local issues, such as the university’s intention of building a neighborhood gym that would have excluded Black Harlem residents. More than 700 students occupied five buildings on campus and held the acting dean of Columbia College, Henry Coleman, hostage for over 24 hours.

Over 700 students were arrested and subject to discipline. According to the New York Times and Forbes, “A total of 73 students were suspended from Columbia after the protests, … but most of these students were reinstated and only 30 suspensions were upheld.”

In September of 1968, Acting President of Columbia University Andrew W. Cordier asked the Criminal Court of New York for “maximum leniency” in the cases of 391 students arrested on a charge of criminal trespass during the occupation in April and May. Dr. Cordier’s request for “maximum leniency” was supported by Barnard President Martha E. Peterson and Teachers College President John H. Fischer. Additionally, through his “right of executive clemency,” Dr. Cordier reduced the disciplinary penalty of suspension to censure for the students who participated in the occupations and were arrested for criminal trespass.

Read the articles here: 

Murray Schumach, “73 Are Suspended In Campus Sit-ins; Mark Rudd Is Among Those Disciplined by Columbia,” The New York Times, June 6, 1968, available here.

Zachary Folk, “Columbia Student Protestors Occupied The Same Building in 1968—Here’s How The Two Protests Compare So Far,” Forbes, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, available here.

Paul Starr, “Leniency Sought in Trespass Cases,” Columbia Spectator, Wednesday, September 18, 1968, available here.

For more details, visit: Columbia University Library, “1968: Columbia In Crisis,” available here.



On April 17, 1972, over 60 Columbia students and community members occupied several buildings, including Hamilton Hall, Kent Hall, and Lewisohn Hall, barricading themselves in the buildings in support of campus anti-war demonstrations. Lewisohn Hall was occupied for 17 days.

The protesters' demands included an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces in Vietnam; the resignation of 5 Columbia faculty members from the Jason Division of the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), which was a private research institute for the Department of Defense; an examination of the U.S. government's business interests in South Africa; and the suspension of work for the U.S. government from Columbia’s School of International Affairs.

A total of 48 students were charged in May of 1972. Only three were convicted at a disciplinary hearing. The university pardoned them. In April of 1973, Columbia University agreed to drop the charges of the three remaining students.

Read the article in the Columbia Spectator:

David Smith, “Charges Against Latins Dismissed,” Columbia Spectator, Monday, March 5, 1973, pgs. 1 and 5. Available here.



In the Spring of 1985, about 300 students blockaded Hamilton Hall for about three weeks, demanding that Columbia University divest from its investments in South Africa-related companies. Associate professor of law (at the time; now U.S. Circuit Judge on the Second Circuit) Gerard Lynch was the legal advisor to the protesters. William Kunstler as well represented some of the protesters.

Fifty-four student protesters received a sentence of one semester of disciplinary warning. 

In the Fall of 1985, Columbia University agreed to divest from South-Africa-related companies.  

Read the articles in the Columbia Spectator:

Irene Tucker, “Hamilton Protesters Get Light Sentence,” Columbia Spectator, Tuesday, September 3, 1985, p. 1. Available here.

“Trustees’ Group: Divest Now!” Columbia Spectator, Tuesday, September 3, 1985, p. 1. Available here.

Anne Kornhauser, “Some of CU’s Charges Dismissed at Hearings,” Columbia Spectator, Wednesday, May 15, 1985, p. 1. Available here.



On April 21, 1987, over 40 Columbia students blockaded Hamilton Hall in protest over the way that the university was addressing racial tensions on campus, following a fight on campus between white students and black students. William Kunstler represented the student protesters. Paul Robeson, Jr., the son of the civil rights activist Paul Robeson, testified in support of the student protesters. 

The most serious charges against the protesters were dropped.

Read the article in the Columbia Spectator:

Hall Morrison, “Blockaders Face No Serious Charges,” Columbia Spectator, Wednesday, June 3, 1987, p. 1. Available here.



In 1996, Columbia students protested demanding the creation of an Ethnic Studies department. About 100 students occupied Hamilton Hall for four days, as well as Low Library. The protest also included a hunger strike. Professor Carol Liebman of the law school served as the mediator and resolved the protests.  

Founded in 1999, the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity (CSER) supports thinking about race, ethnicity, indigeneity, and other categories of difference and has several undergraduate and graduate course offerings. 

Read reports here:

Karen W. Arenson, “Columbia Students Begin Hunger Strike for Ethnic Studies,” New York Times, April 2, 1996, available here.

“Rally Ends With 300 Protesters In Butler,” Columbia Spectator, April 11, 1996

For more details, visit: WikiCU, “1996 Ethnic Studies Demonstrations,” here, and "A Protest, Ongoing," here. For more reading, visit: Columbia Spectator, "Ethnic Studies Drive Continues with Rally," here.



In the Spring of 2019, more than a dozen students occupied and encamped in the President’s office in Low Library to demand that the university divest from fossil fuels. Those students were represented by a number of law faculty, including Alex Carter, Brett Dignam, Philip Genty, Bernard E. Harcourt, and Mary Zulak. Ultimately, the students were asked to each write an essay and apology letter to the custodial staff that had to work overtime. 

A year later, Columbia University divested from fossil fuels. In January 2020, Columbia announced that it would no longer invest in oil or gas companies. See “University Announcement on Fossil Fuel Investments,” Columbia News, January 22, 2021, available online here.