New YorkCNN —  Beyond Columbia University’s heavy iron gates emblazoned with the words “May All Who Enter Here Find Welcome and Peace,” 25-year-old graduate student Alessandro Prosperi said he felt immense pressure to “pick a side” in the Israel-Hamas war.

Prosperi, who is from Italy and working on a PhD in statistics, recalled being approached repeatedly by friends on both sides of the conflict and refusing to lend his name to petitions or statements on the emotionally fraught topic.

“I’m not an expert. I don’t have an opinion,” said Prosperi, president of the university’s Italian Society. “It’s not simple, and a lot of people are dying. My opinion is that it’s sad.”

Longtime bastions of political discourse and protest, US college campuses are seeing widening fissures created by the intense debate over a conflict that has sparked contention for decades. While students on both sides say they feel unheard and abandoned by the university’s administration, young people who won’t take a stand on the war argue those feelings are also true for them.

“You can either act like you don’t care and avoid whatever they say, or you can try to reason and understand what’s going on to see an ideological way of picking a side. But the situation is so involved,” said Prosperi, who moved to New York in August after studying in Texas.

“Either you don’t care or you feel lost. It’s too much to try to handle.”

‘I don’t even want to be involved on campus’

Entrenched opinions about the long-running conflict have not only resulted in disciplinary action against faculty members but also created a fierce backlash against more vocal students. As a result, many grads and undergrads nearing the end of one of the more tumultuous semesters in recent history agree the highly charged environment is impacting college life, turning a place of learning into a place of mistrust and disorder.

“I don’t even want to be involved on campus,” said a second-year Columbia Law student, who is Jewish and did not want to give his name, looking exhausted after recent pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus. “Now I want to graduate and get out of here.”

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