Originally published on June 2, 2024. Republished with permission from The Intercept, an award-winning nonprofit news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Sign up for The Intercept’s Newsletter.

Much of the national conversation around student protests against Israel’s war on Gaza has centered on elite campuses at coastal universities.

News outlets gave daily coverage to Columbia University after administrators called in the New York City Police Department to arrest the student protesters. There was comparatively little attention to another savage crackdown just uptown at the City College of New York, even though students at the working-class public university received harsher charges than those at the Ivy League school.

Across the country, in another coastal megacity, media fixated on an attack by supporters of Israel against a student protest at University of California, Los Angeles, a school considered a top-flight “public Ivy.”

A narrative took hold that fueled efforts by critics to discredit protests by claiming that their student leaders are privileged, out of touch, and in it for themselves.

For all the media attention focused on the coasts, though, mainstream media largely ignored the protests that swept campuses across the Rust Belt and into Appalachia, where students from working- and middle-class backgrounds have led protests at the University of Pittsburgh, Case Western Reserve University, and Ohio State University.

Student demonstrators held protests for Gaza in 11 out of 13 states in the Appalachian region, as well as in every state in the Rust Belt. Hundreds of the more than 2,900 student protesters arrested since the encampments started this spring hailed from inland schools.

“You do wonder what you would’ve done during certain parts of history, especially when it’s something that doesn’t impact you directly,” said one student at Case Western in Cleveland, Ohio. “I think that this is my time to challenge myself to think about what I would do. And that’s what I’m doing now.”

The focus on elite, coastal universities has overshadowed the breadth of the brutal police crackdowns and impunity for attacks on pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Police deployed militarized tanks and riot gear against students at some of the more than 50 schools that saw raids. Demonstrators were tasered, thrown down stairs and left with broken limbs and teeth.

Protesters and professors at schools like Arizona State, University of Georgia and the University of Texas at Austin were tackled, pepper sprayed and shot with rubber bullets. Police fired a gun inside a building at Columbia, and cops stood back while the pro-Israel protesters launched fireworks into the encampment at UCLA.

Legal advocates have also documented disparities in the treatment of students at different campuses, as in the cases of City College and Columbia.

Violence against students in Rust Belt states has gone largely unrecognized.

Contractors hired to paint over a pro-Palestine mural at Case Western Reserve sprayed paint directly onto student protesters who tried to block them from covering the mural. University President Eric Kaler said that demonstrators had added antisemitic language to protest art on campus and that the contractors were directed to paint them over. (Kaler apologized for the incident and said the university would investigate.)

At Ohio State, police attacked a crowd of protesters during a Muslim prayer at the Gaza encampment and reportedly choked and pushed students, trying to rip off some of the students’ hijabs.

“Instead of defending my thesis this week, I spent it in the ER with a severe concussion,” said a protester at OSU. “We have been traumatized as a community by OSU PD, who called in state troopers on their students.”

Israel’s War on Gaza

Critics of campus protests, including university administrators, have justified the police crackdowns by claiming that demonstrators have protested in a manner that violates student codes of conduct and created an environment that makes campus unsafe for students who are Jewish or pro-Israel.

Those claims ignore the violence police and counterprotesters leveled against students — and the backgrounds of the students themselves. At coastal and inland universities alike, Jewish students have played a significant role at the Gaza encampments.

“The media is absolutely wrong about who’s here and what we’re doing. I think there’s more Jewish students on these campuses than people think,” said another student protester at Case Western. “It’s really dissonant for me as a Jewish person. It makes me feel unsafe that Israel is conflated with my Jewish identity. That’s what makes me feel unsafe.”