Universities prepare for graduations to be disrupted by anti-Gaza war protesters

  • By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
  • BBC News, Washington

Screenshot, Demonstration at the University of Michigan

The next chapter of campus protests could begin soon, with universities across the United States bracing for possible disruptions to graduation ceremonies.

Four universities rocked by pro-Palestinian protests will hold graduations this weekend.

Many others, including Columbia University, have scheduled ceremonies throughout the month and into June.

Universities are working to improve security as protesters contemplate strikes and other possible actions.

Protesters set up camps and organized campus demonstrations to call on their universities to cut ties with Israel over the war in Gaza.

Many universities responded by calling the police, leading to thousands of arrests.

There have been demonstrations at nearly 140 institutions in 45 states and Washington, D.C., since protests began at Columbia University last month, according to a BBC tally.

So far, student protesters have remained silent about plans to disrupt graduations, known in the United States as graduation.

At Indiana University, however, IU Divest and the Palestinian Solidarity Committee — whose camp at Indiana University was cleared by police twice in recent weeks — have called for a walkout at graduation events.

“Instead, make your pro-Palestinian stance clear in the ‘Liberated Zone,'” reads a post on Instagram, referencing a protest area on the university’s Bloomington campus. “Join us in wearing your keffiyeh along with your cap and gown.”

The walkout will be scheduled to occur when Pamela Whitten, the university’s president, begins speaking.

Ms. Whitten faced a vote of no confidence in early April from faculty members concerned about academic freedom after the cancellation of a Palestinian artist’s exhibition and the suspension of a faculty member who served as a patron of a group of pro-Palestinian students.

Faculty members have also discussed the possibility of holding “a silent protest” outside of commencement to make their displeasure known without interfering with the event, according to two sources who asked to remain anonymous.

The University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Connecticut, all of which have experienced protests over the past two weeks, have graduations on May 4-5.

University of Michigan officials have announced plans to designate protest areas, where banners and flags will be banned and protesters will be subject to security checks.

The commencement will be supervised by volunteers who “will respond to disruptions, beginning with warnings,” according to the university’s website.

Alifa Chowdhury of the Tahrir Coalition protest group declined to comment on whether unrest was planned. She said the university had “completely ignored” the negotiation offers.

“It makes sense that they have been implementing strategies and training staff to make sure protests don’t happen,” he said.

Screenshot, Police at Ohio State Camp

Nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) to the south, Ohio State University President Ted Carter has vowed to protect students’ right to free speech while enforcing rules prohibiting “the “intentional disruptions of university events, classes, exams or programming, including graduation.” “.

Heba Latif, a Palestinian-American student and co-president of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, did not say whether protests were planned for the May 5 graduation ceremony.

Graduation is scheduled for May 15 in Columbia. Police entered campus earlier this week to clear a student occupation and will remain on campus through graduation season.

Mahmoud Khalil, a Palestinian international student at Columbia, told the BBC that the protest movement would continue anyway.

“Students have been protesting since October,” Khalil said.

“They’ve received disciplinary notices from the university, suspensions, probation, and that hasn’t stopped anyone.

“I don’t see how police intervention will stop this movement.”

Protesters in Columbia did not respond when asked repeatedly if riots were planned.