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  • Writer's pictureMackenzie Mathieu

Weekly News Blast | April 21 - 28

a Columbia student holding a Palestine flag through a gate

Many students at Columbia University have coalesced at Pro-Palestine protests on campus, a trend seen at other universities around the country (SWinxy, Wikimedia Commons)

Pro-Palestine Protests at U.S. Universities

On April 17, Columbia University president Nemat Minouche Shafik was called to testify before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce following criticism of the university’s response to antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Arab harassment on campus. At the same time, a group of protesters set up an encampment on the main lawn of the New York City campus. University administration sent police to arrest members of the group, a move that has been widely criticized, but the protesters have refused to back down. Meanwhile, the university has had talks with student organizers to decide the best course of action that maintains safety while validating student voices.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the University of Southern California announced that valedictorian Asna Tabassum would not be allowed to speak at graduation because of her pro-Palestine views, citing security concerns amidst increasingly disruptive pro-Palestine protests. Other U.S. universities have seen similar trends, with student protestors being arrested at Yale University, George Washington University, Ohio State University, and many others across the country.

Most protestors at these universities are asking for schools to cut ties with Israeli academic institutions, suspend monetary connections with Israel, and end support for companies that aid Israel. However, many believe that the protests have increasingly taken on an antisemitic tone. At some campuses, Jewish students are being urged to stay in their dorms or go home as their safety may be at risk. Many universities have been balancing statements to appease the protesters while also confirming their support for the Jewish communities on campus. It is unclear how long these protests will continue, but under increased scrutiny, universities across the country must decide where their values lie and what will be best for their future.

Tornados Cause Destruction in the Midwest

Late on Saturday night, a series of tornados struck Oklahoma and surrounding areas. By morning, there were reports of 35 tornados that caused structural damage, blackouts, several injuries, and at least four deaths. While the region is used to similar weather during this season, the damage caused by these tornadoes is much greater than previously seen. As soon as the tornados touched ground, warnings were sent out over social media and radio stations, but with the blackouts, it took more time than expected for everyone to be warned.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has since implemented a state of emergency in the 12 counties that were most severely hit as teams worked to clear the debris and assess damage to infrastructure. By the following afternoon, many community groups and volunteers started the rebuilding process, erecting temporary shelters for unhoused individuals. Religious groups and other aid organizations also pulled teams together to bring supplies to people whose livelihoods were destroyed in the night.

In the coming days, the midwest is expected to experience more intense weather, including more tornados and possibly hail. Strong thunderstorms are also likely as this unnatural weather pattern moves through the area. However, for now, it is unclear how long the rebuilding process will take, with each state focusing on getting immediate aid to those whose homes, businesses, and cars have been destroyed.

Smoking Bills in the U.K. and U.S.

In the wake of the U.K. Tobacco and Vapes Bill being passed on April 16, the delay on a menthol cigarette ban in the U.S. is facing more pushback than ever. Last week, a bill was approved by a 383-67 vote in the British House of Commons that would make it illegal for anyone born after 2009 to buy tobacco and would add restrictions to vaping. Even with many opposition lawmakers citing concerns about a lack of freedom or making smoking cooler among youth, the majority of the governing body voted for the bill. The bill’s sponsors’ main argument is that because the U.K. has a centralized healthcare system, taxpayers are paying for diseases, disabilities, and hospitalizations caused by smoking. The goal of this bill is to stop youth from becoming addicted to cigarettes and eventually faze out tobacco altogether.

As the bill moves into its second reading, a similar U.S. bill to ban menthol cigarettes is still being debated. Originally discussed during the Obama administration, groups have been arguing about this bill for almost a decade. Menthol cigarettes are much more addictive than traditional cigarettes because they intensify the effect of nicotine on the brain while making the smoke feel easier to inhale. However, one concern surrounding this bill is that menthol cigarettes are disproportionally purchased by people in the Black community. Some senior Biden administration officials feel that banning cigarettes so close to the presidential election would compromise his support amongst Black voters. As a result, this bill has once again been postponed for further debate with no concrete date placed on when it will be voted on.

These two smoking bills will function as experiments for the rest of the world as the only other legislation banning cigarettes, formerly introduced in New Zealand, was repealed before the true effects could be seen. As the debate continues in both the U.K. and the U.S., lobbying groups on both sides of the issue are working as hard as they can to have their ideas put into law and it is still being determined which side will win.


Sources & Further Reading

Pro-Palestine Protests at U.S. Universities

Tornados Cause Destruction in the Midwest

Smoking Bills in the U.K. and U.S.


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