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Columbia’s Hamilton Hall Takeover: Photos From Inside

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Columbia University Issues Deadline For Gaza Encampment To Vacate Campus

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Columbia University students calling for their school’s divestment from Israel escalated their protest by taking it indoors. After nearly two weeks in an encampment on the Ivy’s main lawn, demonstrators forced their way into a nearby academic building, Hamilton Hall, and set up barricades to block the police from the entrance.

After evicting two university facility workers, students hung a banner reading “Student Intifada” from the second floor of the hall. In response, Columbia threatened to expel students occupying the building, while the White House condemned the practice of “forcibly taking over buildings.” As students rushed Hamilton Hall early on Tuesday, photographer Alex Kent was documenting it all, including the tense moment with the Columbia workers inside. Below, Kent explains what his photos captured.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Around 11 p.m. or midnight, things on campus start getting quiet — people eat or start going to bed. That night was different because people were very much awake and moving around midnight. They started gathering at the middle of campus on the sundial and it was an alert that something was happening. One group started moving tents to the upper side of the campus and another group ran to the opposite side of the campus, toward Hamilton Hall. I noticed one of these people had a hardhat on, so I followed him.

There was a lone security guard on the ground-level floor, and she seemed really taken aback. She started calling for backup, and the protesters told her she needed to leave. Inside, I followed protesters as they brought barricades in and started setting them up in the main room. Other folks started going up the stairs to pull down more furniture — the desks for students and larger desks for teachers.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

When they started pulling the furniture down, they encountered two facilities workers who were still on site. The students were telling the facilities workers that they needed to leave. The employee in the Yankees hat said they were not going to tell him what to do and that he was doing his job. They were trying to calm him down and convince him to leave and I think they tried to touch him to calm him down, and he responded by pushing.

The students were trying to level with them practically. They were saying “this is happening,” and that it’s better for them if they go. “You don’t get paid enough to deal with this” — I think I remember one student saying something to that effect.

No one was hurt. There was pushing and shoving, but both walked away, and there were no solid punches. It was more an act of frustration.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

They had been carrying supplies in these reusable shopping bags leading up to the action. There were a lot of supplies — ropes, chains, nails, a drill, a hammer — that were used in the barricades, which were most likely brought in with the bags. They had sleeping bags, and they seemed like they were ready to stay. There were no protest chants inside the building — it was all very much to-the-point directions about what to do, what they needed to do.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

When they started to barricade the main entrance, they broke the windows to the French doors and wrapped a chain around them to secure them.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

The barricades are triple-layered. Inside, there are desks as barricades, then the door with some of the windows smashed with the chain around it. Then there’s chairs in the vestibule. Outside, there are metal picnic tables against the door as well.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

On a lower level, they used wood and nails to fix one of the barricades in place:

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

Students called the building “Hind’s Hall” in honor of 6-year-old Hind Rajab, who was killed in Gaza.
Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images

During the confrontation with the workers, they were asking me to leave. I told them I was going to stay. They said, “If you don’t leave, we’re not opening the door again for you. You could be here for weeks.” That happened twice with two different protesters. Around 1:40 a.m., they were letting the workers out through a door that wasn’t barricaded yet. I was trying to convince them to let me stay. They said, “We’re not going to let you shoot. We’ll smash your camera.” Essentially, that was it.

I saw them up in the window dropping the sign that says “Student Intifada.” At the end, once they kicked me out, they bolted the door and went up to the second-floor balcony and dropped the banners. When I got out, there was still a crowd of over 100 people.

I went to the J school to warm up, eat, drink, and file. When I came out this morning, most of the students were gone and there was a dozen or two still outside wrapped up in blankets outside the building. That came after the announcement from the university this morning that they’re closing the campus.

Photo: Alex Kent/Getty Images



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