The Surreal Difference Between Harvard and Columbia Protests


On Tuesday evening, as pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia University were breaking the windows of Hamilton Hall, their Harvard counterparts posted a video on Instagram of students dancing in front of University Hall.

The video from the coalition “Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine” (HOOP rhymes with GOOP) features a guide walking through the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” showing off their “Art Build,” “Reading Center” and “spiritual and prayer space.”

The difference between the unrest at the two Ivy League schools is striking. As Columbia students risk arrest, Harvard students are risking a good night’s sleep.

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NYPD officers in riot gear march onto Columbia University campus, where pro-Palestinian students are barricaded inside a building and have set up an encampment, in New York City on April 30, 2024.

Kena Betancur/Getty

For now, the Harvard administration is keeping the police away from the Yard and with finals starting on Friday, the plan may be to just wait this out.

One observer said that the protesters made a strategic mistake by pitching their tents in a gated community. Only people who flash a Harvard ID can get past security guards and enter the Yard. This means students from other Boston colleges and the public can only offer support from a distance.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Compared to other universities, Harvard’s protest is small, but well-equipped for addressing basic needs–like staying warm as one protester did in a $2,000 Moncler puffer with faux fur collar.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Shelter: If you build it, they will camp

“Who wants a bedroll?” shouted a pink-haired student organizer while brandishing a brand-new mat. The question was repeated until the organizer added, “If no one here wants one, I’m sending it to Northeastern!”

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

I followed up with another organizer wearing a union baseball cap and a safety vest and asked if Harvard was coordinating with other schools in the area.

“We know them,” the organizer said with a smile.

Because there’s a strong UAW presence in the camp, I asked if the union was supporting the movement financially. “No, why would they be?” the organizer responded. (I reached out to the UAW for comment days ago on their online press page, but they have not responded.)

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

“So who is purchasing all the new equipment?” I asked.

“We have many allies,” the organizer said.

Getting the supplies into the Yard required subterfuge since security guards were on the lookout for large packages. One unconfirmed rumor is that the protesters used the student-run laundry service to smuggle tents into the Yard in laundry bags.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Last Thursday, a stash of brand-new dome tents purchased from Walmart sat on the edge of camp, waiting to be pitched. At one point, organizers expanded the footprint of the camp into an adjacent cordoned triangle of the Yard.

Still, when I walked through the camp on Thursday night, about half of the approximately 30 tents appeared to be empty.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

The next day, I asked the organizer with the union baseball cap about the occupation not being fully occupied. She disputed my observation.

“Students are sleeping one to a tent,” she said. Then perhaps realizing that still sounded like a smallish number, she added, “Or two to a tent.”

I asked if she was hoping to recruit more campers. Once again, the organizer smiled. “We are welcoming.”

Less welcoming was the NYPD who were called in by Columbia administrators on Tuesday night to clear the massive tent city and arrest more than 300 protesters.

Food: Lentils + Rice Krispie treats

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

While Columbia activists were mocked for calling on the university to provide them with food and “basic humanitarian aid,” Harvard activists were well-supported by their community. They began the protest accepting in-kind donations for food but stopped after two days because, as they told me, they had enough.

On April 28, HOOP posted that “community members cooked students in the Liberated Zone makloubeh (“upside-down”), a traditional and delicious Palestinian dish… [which] led people into conversation about food & food sovereignty.”

Still, undergrads cramming for finals need a steady supply of carbs and sugar. Here’s a partial list of provisions spotted in the main tent:

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Peanut Butter Pretzels

Keto Granola

French Vanilla Almond Granola

Mott’s Apple Juice

Dole’s Mandarin Orange Drink

Quaker Instant Oatmeal

Nature Valley Sweet and Salty Nut Granola Bars

Cup Noodles

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Skinny Pop Popcorn

Sour Cream Onion Potato Chips

Premier Protein Chocolate Ready to Drink Shake

Siracha Flavored Peas

Pepperidge Farm Farmhouse Sliced Bread

Peanut Butter

Honey

Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip Little Bites

Fruit Loops

Ritz Crackers

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Pirate’s Booty

Almond non-dairy beverage

Rice Krispie Treats

Oreo Cookies

A single box of Gluten Free Matzoh for Passover.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Sanitation: What happens in the tents stays in the tents

Sympathetic freshmen can allow protesters inside to use facilities in the surrounding dorms when nature calls. Plus, the Science Center is close. But what does a protester do late at night when it’s dark? Public urination is frowned upon. Fortunately, some brainy protestor thought of the perfect contingency plan.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Technology: The 4th basic need

Most of the people hanging out with the protesters have laptops and smartphones.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

To accommodate those remaining in the encampment, some of the tents are equipped with e-ports

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

The John Harvard statue is a Pokemon Go gym—a red one which means “valor” not “communism” in the Pokemon community. I was hoping the gym might be controlled by trainers “Fr33P@l3stine” or “H@rvardDivest!” Sadly, the only gym leader whose name might be connected with the camp is “colorfulanarchy” with a decidedly uncool Turtonator.

Pokemon Go

The larger environs

The start of the occupation coincided with Harvard’s Arts First Festival, an annual celebration of Harvard’s creative community.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Just a few triangles of grass away from the camp, is this gorgeous art installation.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

In a tent next to the Science Center just on the other side of the gate from the camp, a drag show on Thursday night went off without a hitch.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

Meanwhile, in a nearby part of the yard, another disruptive group that refuses to leave shows little interest in taking part in any protest.

Harvard Gaza protest

Nell Scovell/The Daily Beast

So far, the protests at Harvard have received attention for optics like the Palestinian flag flying over University Hall. But here’s a video that gives some context for how much space the tents take up.

A final word

After hearing reports of Wednesday night’s police crackdown at Columbia, HOOP issued a statement on Instagram. The group argued, “Administrators, donors, and politicians would have us believe students have invaded university campuses. The invaders are, in fact, those who have claimed to be invaded.”

Then they ended on this question:

Palestine/Gaza poster

When in doubt, chant and shout.

There is always a chance that the protest could expand and escalate, but based on what The Daily Beast observed, Facebook Marketplace in Cambridge might have some great deals on barely used tents in a couple of weeks.





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