Columbia University cancels main commencement ceremony amid protests

Columbia University cancels main commencement ceremony amid protests
Columbia University cancels main commencement ceremony amid protests

Pro- protesters demonstrate at Michigan commencement ceremony

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a protest by waving flags and chanting during the University of Michigan commencement ceremony.

Police arrested dozens of at a pro-Palestinian encampment in California, hundreds marched outside the Met Gala to protest Israel’s looming invasion of Rafah, and universities pivoted graduation plans Monday amid coast-to-coast demonstrations that have gained international spotlight.

Columbia University said in a statement that it will not hold its main commencement ceremony on May 15 and instead will make “school-level ceremonies” and other smaller celebrations the centerpiece of this year’s graduation.

On the same day, Emory University in Atlanta announced it will relocate its various graduation events from the main campus to an arena and a convention center in Duluth, Georgia, more than 20 miles northeast of campus. Both Columbia and Emory, where police have responded to pro-Palestinian demonstrations and arrested dozens of protesters, cited safety concerns in their statements on the changes.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news briefing Monday that President Joe Biden continues to call for peaceful protest and is sympathetic to the graduates.

“It is unfortunate that a small group – a small group of people – went too far and cost their classmates this important event,” she said.

Over the weekend, police responded to several college campuses while students in Michigan and Indiana interrupted and walked out of graduation ceremonies. Last month, the University of Southern California became the first university to cancel its main commencement in the aftermath of large pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

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∎ Protesting students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, posted a detailed list of demands that include cutting ties with “Zionist institutions,” including Hillel International, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, and forbidding local police from coming on campus. A pro-Palestinian encampment has been set up on campus for over a week.

∎ Students at the University of in Italy set up a pro-Palestinian encampment, one of the latest campus protests in Europe, CNN reported, citing the Italian State Police.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology issued an ultimatum to students at an encampment on Kresge lawn: Leave by 2:30 pm or be prohibited from classes, exams and commencement.

Sally Kornbluth, the president of the university, said the situation on campus is “inherently highly unstable” and added that because of increasing concern for student safety, she must “now take action to bring closure to a situation that has disrupted our campus for more than two weeks.”

In her statement, Kornbluth said students must swipe their university IDs as they leave the encampment and that those who voluntarily exit the area by 2:30 pm will only receive a written warning, as long as they haven’t had any sanctions from the school’s disciplinary committee since Oct. 7.

Those who stay past 2:30 pm will be barred from participating in academic activities including classes, exams or research for the remainder of the semester. also be blocked from participating in commencement. Those who have had recent disciplinary action taken against them and refuse to leave the encampment will be placed on “immediate interim full suspension” and will be barred from residence and dining halls.

“I hoped these measures could be avoided through our efforts to engage the students in serious good-faith discussion,” the statement said. “But recent events, and my responsibility to ensure the physical safety of our community, obligates us to act now.”

Massachusetts State Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven said in a social media post shortly after 5 pm Monday that police officers were “surrounding” the encampment at MIT.

“If you’re in the area please come to support the peaceful student protesters by putting everything on the line for a simple and moral demand,” formerly Twitter.

Pro-Palestinian protesters rally outside Met Gala

Pro-Palestinian protesters rally outside the Met Gala Monday evening to protest Israel’s planned invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city of the embattled Gaza Strip where hundreds of thousands of people are taking refuge.

The Costume Institute Benefit, commonly known as the Met Gala, is a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. Last year, the event hit a record and raised over $22 million, according to Vogue Business. One of fashion’s biggest nights, the annual event draws Hollywood’s biggest stars in lavish outfits.

Some demonstrators and marched toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art donning keffiyehs – traditional Palestinian scarves – and waving Palestinian flags. “Disclose. Divest. We will not stop, we will not rest,” the crowd chanted in

Monday’s rally outside the Met comes after hundreds of students at New York City schools, including Columbia University, New York University and SUNY’s Fashion Institute of Technology set up encampments to demand their institutions cut financial ties to Israel and Israeli companies, especially those benefiting from the ongoing war in Gaza.

Naledi Ushe

Police at the University of California, San Diego, on Monday arrested 64 people, including students, while breaking up a pro-Palestinian encampment on the school’s main campus.

The UC San Diego Police Department, along with the California Highway Patrol and San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, were involved in the effort to dismantle the encampment, which began around 6 a.m. Videos circulating social media show police in riot gear taking down tents and carrying away people in handcuffs.

Of those who were arrested, 40 were students and the others were either unaffiliated or their status was unknown, the UC San Diego Police Department said in a statement. One person received minor injuries. All students who were taken into custody “will be placed under immediate interim suspension,” the campus police department said.

On Sunday, Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla said the encampment was “illegal” and called on the protesters “to peacefully disperse.” He said communication between university leadership and the demonstrators had broken down and that the encampment tripled in size since it started on May 1.

“The encampment poses serious safety and security hazards to those inside and outside the encampment area. In the last week, the encampment has limited free movement on campus, created a checkpoint for entry into the camp, and denied access to the fire marshal and inspectors,” the statement said. “As time passes, the threat and potential for violent clashes increases.”

Alan Garber, the president of Harvard, demanded in a statement on Monday that protesters break up a pro-Palestinian encampment in Harvard Yard or face a potential ban from campus.

Garber said those who “participate or perpetuate” the encampment’s continuation “will be referred for involuntary leave from their schools.” Students placed on involuntary leave must leave campus until “reinstated” and will not be able to sit in for exams or reside in on-campus housing.

Garber cited safety concerns as well as the upcoming graduation ceremonies as reasons for the university’s harsher stance on the encampment.

“The members of the Class of 2024 deserve to enjoy this milestone uninterrupted and unimpeded,” Garber’s statement said. “It would be especially painful if students who graduated from high school or college during the pandemic were denied a full graduation ceremony for a second time.”

Overseas, pro-Palestinian encampments were erected on the campuses of Oxford and Cambridge on Monday as students and organizers called on the prestigious institutions to sever financial ties to Israel.

Oxford Action For Palestine, the organizing group leading the demonstration at Oxford, said in a statement that an encampment was established at 4 am on the lawn outside of Pitts River Museum on the university’s campus. The group demands that Oxford disclose its investments, land holdings and grants; divest from all arms companies; divest from all companies involved in the war in Gaza; and end its relationships with universities in Israel.

At Cambridge, students set up tents and banners outside King’s College on Monday. Cambridge for Palestine, the organizers leading the protest, called on the university to divest from Israel and demanded a meeting with the school’s leadership.

Columbia University on Monday announced that it will not hold a university-wide commencement ceremony following weeks of protests that have roiled the Ivy League school.

“Our students emphasized that these smaller-scale, school-based celebrations are most meaningful to them and their families. They are eager to cross the stage to applause and family pride and hear from their school’s invited guest speakers,” a statement from the university he said. “As a result, we will focus our resources on those school ceremonies and on keeping them safe, respectful, and running smoothly.”

In addition to canceling the May 15 commencement, the school relocated graduation ceremonies scheduled for the South Lawn of the Morningside campus to the Baker Athletics Complex. As a save for students, the university is considering another informal event for May 15.

“These past few weeks have been incredibly difficult for our community,” the university said. “Just as we are focused on making our graduation experience truly special, we continue to solicit student feedback and are looking at the possibility of a festive event on May 15 to take the place of the large, formal ceremony.”

Emory University in Atlanta moved its various graduation events from the main campus quad to an arena and convention center in Duluth, Georgia, over 20 miles from campus.

In an announcement of the changes on Monday, Gregory L. Fenves, the president of Emory, said “concerns about safety and security require us to adjust the plans.”

“Please know that this decision was not taken lightly. It was made in close consultation with the Emory Police Department, security advisors, and other agencies − each of which advised against holding Commencement events on our campuses,” the statement said. “I know that this news will be deeply disappointing to many of you.”

In recent weeks at Emory, over two dozen people have been arrested, including professor Caroline Fohlin, amid pro-Palestinian demonstrations on campus.

Students at Princeton University began a hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, calling for the Ivy League school to divest from Israel.

“Participants will abstain from all food and drink (except water) until our demands are met,” said a statement from organizers. “We commit our bodies to (the) liberation of Palestine. PRINCETON, hear us now! We will not be moved!”

The university said in an email that Dr. Melissa Marks, director of medical services at University Health Services, visited the group on Friday and Sunday “to offer health information and ongoing medical support.” The university added that Marks has also spoken with one of the outside doctors who are monitoring the group.

Princeton is not the first university where hunger strikes over the war in Gaza have occurred. Last month, students at the University of South Florida launched such a strike for more than two weeks before it ended after two students were hospitalized. Hunger strikes also occurred at Yale and McGill University.

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