‘Alleged perpetrators’ banned from Columbia campus following reported chemical spraying incident

Interim University Provost Dennis Mitchell’s announcement came after numerous students said they were sprayed with a foul-smelling chemical at a Friday rally.

Columbia banned “alleged perpetrators” from campus following “what appear to have been serious crimes, possibly hate crimes” at a Friday pro-Palestinian rally, interim University Provost Dennis Mitchell announced in an email to the Columbia community on Monday evening.

Protesters were allegedly sprayed with a hazardous chemical at the Friday protest, according to nearly two dozen students in attendance who reported a foul smell, physical symptoms, or property damage directly following the rally.

Public Safety first received a complaint about the incident late Friday evening, at which point the University “immediately initiated steps to investigate the incident,” Mitchell wrote.

“The University received additional information Sunday night,” he wrote in the email. “As a result, the alleged perpetrators identified to the University were immediately banned from campus while the law enforcement investigation proceeds.”

The New York Police Department and federal authorities are investigating the incident, which led at least eight students to seek medical treatment, according to an Instagram post from Columbia’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine and interviews conducted by Spectator. An NYPD spokesperson told Spectator on Monday evening that the department had received six reports of assault regarding the incident.

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any threats or acts of violence directed toward anyone in our community,” Mitchell wrote. “The University is committed to taking urgent action with the appropriate authorities in any such cases. The safety of every single member of this community is paramount.”

A University spokesperson declined to comment further on the alleged spraying.

Sarah Gillman, Barnard’s senior vice president of strategic finance and operations, and Marina Catallozzi, vice president for health and wellness, directly addressed the Barnard community on Monday afternoon. Their email regarding the “physical symptoms” being reported by “several protesters” after attending the Friday rally marked them as the first administrators to publicly address the incident. The email also provided resources for students affected and encouraged them to seek medical care.

Spectator reported on Monday that 18 students described a putrid smell during or after the protest, 10 reported physical symptoms such as burning eyes, headaches, and nausea, and eight reported damage to their personal belongings.

Mitchell sent a previous email on Monday morning in which he did not directly address the spraying incident, but called for “a renewed focus on our core mission of education, research, and service.”

“Columbia University is committed to defending the right of all members of our community to safely exercise their right to expression and to invite, listen to, and challenge views, including those that may be offensive and even hurtful to many of us,” Mitchell wrote. “It is the duty of every member of the community to help preserve freedom of speech for all, including protesters and speakers.”

District 7 City Council member Shaun Abreu, CC ’14, posted on X Monday evening that his office is “actively monitoring a hostile incident against student protestors” at Columbia and added that “no student should be afraid to express themselves on campus or elsewhere in our city.”

In the Monday morning email, Mitchell noted the Dialogue Across Difference initiative, which was announced by University President Minouche Shafik in a Dec. 20 email to the Columbia community. The initiative is “designed to foster a resilient and inclusive community of learners among students, faculty, and staff,” according to the Dialogue Across Difference website.

Mitchell’s earlier email also referred to the ongoing review of the Rules of University Conduct and cited several rules, one of which prohibits members of the community from engaging in “conduct that places another in danger of bodily harm or uses words that threaten bodily harm.” He also listed a number of rules regarding violations of University conduct at protests and sit-ins, such as “interrupt[ing], shout[ing] down, or otherwise disrupt[ing] an event or academic setting.”

This rules review comes after top University officials unilaterally revised University events policies 17 days before citing the policy in its suspension of SJP and the Columbia chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.