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Some college student protesters are now facing criminal charges

From suspensions to expulsions to criminal charges, students involved in these protests could face life-changing consequences.
Rep. William Timmons
Posted at 6:41 PM, May 01, 2024

As protests take over college campuses nationwide, a growing chorus of critics are calling for universities and police departments to offer amnesty to student protesters.

From suspensions to expulsions to criminal charges, students involved in these protests could face life-changing consequences.

Andrew de la Alas is a junior at Washington University in St. Louis who faces suspension.

"I've been banned from the same campus that actually issued an award for my leadership and service two weeks ago. And I've been notified of my immediate suspension by the Dean of Students," de la Alas said.

De la Alas and dozens of others were arrested after attempting to set up an encampment on campus. He has now been suspended by the University and charged with trespassing.

"I would love to graduate. I want to continue to go to this school. This is where my friends are. This is where my community is. But if, in 30 or 40 years, if I have to look back at it and think, 'Well, I was arrested from this institution that has given me a space to do all these wonderful things and meet all these wonderful people' — then at least I did it for a cause I believe in," de la Alas said.

In a note to students, Washington University's chancellor said, "We've all watched as protests have spiraled out of control on other campuses across the country in recent months. We are not letting this happen here."

Vanderbilt's chancellor struck a similar tone after expelling students following a sit-in in the chancellor's office.

Terry Maroney, a Vanderbilt law professor, is one more than 150 faculty who penned an open letter to university officials calling the expulsions, "excessive and punitive."

Members of the New York Police Department strategic response team load arrested protesters from Columbia University onto a bus

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"This is something we will be ashamed of, and some of us are ashamed of it right now. What is the best thing to do to preserve their future while having them experience appropriate consequences? That's not what Vanderbilt is doing right now. They're just throwing the book at them so that they can make a point to a broader audience," Maroney said.

Many of the students impacted have some avenues of recourse to fight university discipline. All expelled students at Vanderbilt are in active internal appellate processes.

Columbia students filed a federal civil rights complaint alleging "extreme different treatment" of pro-Palestinian students.

"Whatever happens in this appeals process really sets the stage for their possibilities in life, particularly the expelled students," Maroney added.

As for the criminal charges, it will come down to decisions by local prosecutors. At the University of Texas, Travis County Attorney Delia Garza dropped all charges against 57 students arrested during a demonstration last week on UT's campus.

She said in a statement reacting to more arrests Monday that it is not “our role to assist the Governor’s efforts to suppress non-violent and peaceful demonstrations.”

The number of protesters arrested across the country continues to grow, now sitting well above 1,000.