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(Bloomberg) — Vanderbilt University suspended multiple students following a protest supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, saying that a school officer was physically assaulted.

The students assaulted the campus officer as they tried to gain entry to a building under construction, Julia Jordan, a spokeswoman for the Nashville-based university, said in a statement. A video of the altercation shows several students overwhelming the officer as they rush the doors of Kirkland Hall, the main administration building.

Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Magistrate’s Office charged three students with misdemeanor assault after they pushed the officer and a staff member, and a fourth with vandalism for breaking a window, according to Jordan. The Vanderbilt Hustler reported that at least sixteen students have said they’ve received an interim suspension.

“Student Affairs staff took a graduated approach to de-escalate the situation. First, they asked students to leave. After the students refused to leave, staff made them aware their actions violated university policy and that they would be subject to disciplinary action,” said Jordan. Suspensions were issued after several hours, she said. 

Tensions have risen at the school since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostage. Israel’s retaliatory bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 32,000 people according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, prompting protests and counter-protests.

University administrations have come under fire for being reluctant to suspend students even when they breach school guidelines. The presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania resigned following widely derided testimony on antisemitism in which they failed to condemn calls for genocide against Jews as a violation of university policy.

Read more: Columbia Sued by Jewish Students Over ‘Endemic’ Antisemitism

Vanderbilt’s latest protest was sparked by the administration’s cancellation of a vote over spending student government funds to purchase goods and services from companies with ties to Israel. The university told the student paper that the vote could result in legal repercussions for the school and expose it to fines.

Protesters disputed the university’s account of the events that followed, saying that students were also “grabbed and assaulted” and were defending themselves from officers “in an attempt to exercise their fundamental rights to free speech,” according to a statement provided to the Hustler.

Vanderbilt maintains that free expression and civil discourse are core values at the university, as dozens of peaceful demonstrations have taken place in recent months. 

“The safety and well-being of our community is a top priority,” Jordan said in the statement. “The university will take action when our policies are violated, the safety of our campus is jeopardized and when people intimidate or injure members of our community.”

(Updates with arrest details in third paragraph.)

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Published: 28 Mar 2024, 06:34 AM IST

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