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Student protestors worry how school disciplinary actions will affect their futures

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Over the last few weeks, more than 2,000 arrests have taken place on U.S. college campuses for participating in pro-Palestinian protests. Many of the people arrested have been students. It is not clear how many of them have been suspended or expelled. NPR's Sergio Martinez-Beltran reports on how students facing disciplinary actions are thinking about their futures.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Disclose. Divest. We will not stop. We will not rest. Disclose...

SERGIO MARTINEZ-BELTRAN, BYLINE: It's a humid Sunday afternoon at the University of Texas at Austin. Students are gathering at the south lawn to protest the actions by the Israeli military in Gaza after the October 7 Hamas attack. One of the loudest chanters, jumping up and down to a drum's beat, is Ammer Qaddumi, the Palestinian American studying economics and government.

AMMER QADDUMI: We have a duty to advocate for Palestine, to, you know, ensure that people understand the narrative, the Palestine narrative, the history of the Palestinian struggle.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Qaddumi was the first person arrested nearly two weeks ago at an on-campus pro-Palestinian protest. At UT Austin, protests have been mostly peaceful under the watchful eye of a strong police presence.

QADDUMI: We will continue to come out and advocate for Palestine, no matter what obstacles, you know, UT administration or our state government, you know, tries to put in our way.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Qaddumi's charges were later dropped. Most protesters arrested at UT Austin were charged with criminal trespass. A university spokesperson says the students violated several institutional rules. It's unclear whether students would be suspended, expelled or put on probation, but UT Austin has said they'll revisit disciplinary action for students after final exams are done this week.

SAM LAW: As a person of conscience, I cannot let threats like that deter me.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Sam Law is a Jewish American graduate student. He was arrested during the protests last week and is now concerned about the consequences.

LAW: I really am worried, and I've had a lot of conversations with the chair of my department, with lawyers about what might happen if the university pursues disciplinary action.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Other students across the country have already been punished by their universities. Cornell student Momodou Taal was suspended for participating in a pro-Palestinian encampment.

MOMODOU TAAL: The school has deemed that my activity or my participation on campus is a threat somehow.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Taal is a British Ph.D. student and is now at risk of also losing his international student visa.

TAAL: Fundamentally, I risked all that I risked so far for what I believe is a just cause, and that's the Palestinian cause.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: In a written response to NPR, Cornell says it gave students the option to finish the semester with incomplete grades and remain enrolled as long as they do not violate the university's policies again. Taal is considering his options. He says he was guided by his conscience and that participating in the protests was the right thing to do, even though there could be long-term consequences.

ANNA IVEY: It is serious. It does go in your record.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Anna Ivey is the former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School. She now owns a company that advises students on their college application. Regarding suspensions and expulsions, she says...

IVEY: You probably will have to disclose it somewhere, you know, when you try to find other alternatives and move on with your life.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: But Ivey says it doesn't have to be a career-ending moment.

IVEY: I think a lot of admissions officers are watching in horror at how students are being treated, so I don't think they should assume that they're necessarily going to encounter, you know, hostility or that people are not even going to look at the circumstances.

MARTINEZ-BELTRAN: Suspended students at Cornell and those arrested at UT Austin say they do not regret getting in trouble. They'd do it again until their universities divest from businesses with ties to Israel. Sergio Martinez-Beltran, NPR News, Austin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán
Sergio Martínez-Beltrán (SARE-he-oh mar-TEE-nez bel-TRAHN) is an immigration correspondent based in Texas.