Homeless, Zip-Tied, Hungry: Ilhan Omar’s Daughter Recounts Protest Arrest

Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images
Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images

When Isra Hirsi joined several of her Barnard College and Columbia University peers in the pro-Palestinian campus protest known as the Gaza encampment, she had no idea she would end up suspended, homeless, and left without food within a matter of days.

In an interview with Teen Vogue’s Lex McMenamin, the Barnard junior—who is the daughter of outspoken Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN)—recounted the violence with which the college reacted to student activism, detailing the arrest and subsequent sanctions she faced. Hirsi and two of her Barnard College classmates were the first of over 100 students to be suspended following the protest, which Columbia President Minouche Shafik authorized the NYPD to shut down.

Early Thursday morning, just over 24 hours into the encampment, Hirsi and the hundred-plus other protesters were crammed into a corrections bus and sent downtown to 1 Police Plaza, a process that took up the entire day.

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“We had so many people who were born female in our group that they didn’t have enough space for us. It was a very slow process in getting everybody into the cells,” Hirsi said.

“I was zip-tied for about seven hours and wasn’t released for about eight,” she continued, estimating that it was between 9 and 9:30 p.m. by the time she got out—thirteen hours after she had been arrested.

But when she returned to campus, she found only more barriers.

Hirsi knew that when she was suspended, it meant she no longer had access to her housing in the on-campus dorms. That meant she had also lost access to all of her possessions—and didn’t know where she would find housing that night.

“I was a little bit frantic, like, where am I going to sleep? Where am I gonna go? And also all of my shit is thrown in a random lot. It’s pretty horrible,” she said. “I don't know when I can go home, and I don’t know if I ever will be able to.”

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To make matters worse, Hirsi also lost access to the dining hall as a result of her suspension, where she had been getting the majority of her meals. She said she appealed to the administration for help but was ultimately left to fend for herself.

“I sent them an email like, ‘Hey, I rely on campus for my meals, I rely on my dining plan,’ and they were like, Oh, you can come pick up a prepackaged bag of food, a full 48 hours after I was suspended. There was no food support, no nothing,” she said.

The Daily Beast’s requests for comment to Barnard College were not immediately returned.

Hirsi also criticized Barnard’s president, Laura Rosenbury, for the college’s violence against its own students, and drew a sharp contrast to the actions taken by Columbia’s president, Shafik. Whereas Shafik was on the congressional stage and being “actively harassed” about her response to the protest, Hirsi said, Rosenbury had the opportunity to react less harshly.

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“I think it's really on a school-by-school basis, and Barnard has decided to take a very egregious stand against us,” Hirsi said.

The protest, which was attended by big-name participants like the actress Susan Sarandon, fanned the flames of an already heated debate over free speech and hate speech on college campuses. Columbia’s lead rabbi advised Jewish students to stay home because of the antisemitic actions of some protesters, while others have argued that deploying the NYPD to shut down a peaceful protest is an affront to the First Amendment.

Still, Hirsi thinks media frenzy over Columbia detracts from the real issue: the amount of human suffering in Gaza. Expressing gratitude that others have paid attention to “the severity of our campus repression,” Hirsi urged others to keep their eyes on the Strip.

“The whole point of the encampment was to shed light on Columbia's complicity in genocide and to focus back on the folks in Gaza,” she said.

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