An Inside Look at the Student Takeover of Columbia’s Hamilton Hall

Mariano Torres, a maintenance worker at Columbia University, was cleaning on the third floor of Hamilton Hall in his signature Yankees cap one night last week, when he heard a commotion downstairs. He said he figured it had something to do with the pro-Palestinian encampment on the lawn outside and kept working.

He was shocked, he said, when he suddenly saw five or six protesters, their faces covered by scarves or masks, picking up chairs and bringing them into the stairway.

“I’m like, what the hell is going on? Put it back. What are you doing?” he recalled.

He said he tried to block them and they tried to reason with him to get out of the way, telling him “this is bigger than you.” One person, he recalled, told him he didn’t get paid enough to deal with this. Someone tried to offer him “a fistful of cash.”

He said he replied: “I don’t want your money, dude. Just get out of the building.”

It was the beginning of what would be a frightening time for Mr. Torres and two other maintenance workers in Hamilton Hall, who were inside when pro-Palestinian protesters at Columbia took over the building.

Just as upsetting as their encounters with the protesters, the three workers recounted in interviews this week, was their feeling that the university had not done enough to prevent the attack or to help them once the building was under siege.

“I cannot believe they let this happen,” Mr. Torres said.

Only one security guard was posted at the building when the demonstrators entered, despite heightened tensions from the growing encampment nearby, witnesses said.

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