Universities disrupt graduations by Gaza war protesters

  • By Bernd Debussmann Jr
  • BBC News, Washington

image caption, rally at the University of Michigan

The next chapter of campus protests could soon begin, with universities across the U.S. bracing for possible disruptions at graduation ceremonies.

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

Many others, including Columbia University, are planning festivities throughout the month and into June.

Universities are working to improve security while protesters consider walkouts and other possible actions.

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

Many colleges responded by calling the police, and thousands were arrested.

Since protests began at Columbia University last month, protests have taken place in nearly 140 institutions across 45 states and Washington DC, according to a BBC count.

Student protesters have so far been largely silent about plans to disrupt graduation programs known as Commencements in America.

However, at Indiana University, IU Divest and the Palestine Solidarity Group — whose encampment at Indiana University has been cleared by police twice in recent weeks — have called for walkouts at graduation events.

“Make your pro-Palestinian position clear in the ‘Liberation Zone,'” in a post on Instagram, referring to the protest area on the university’s campus in Bloomington. “Join us to wear your keffiyeh with your cap and gown.”

A walkout erupts as University President Pamela Whitten begins to speak.

Two sources said faculty members discussed holding a “silent protest” outside commencement to express their displeasure without interfering with the event.

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 and 5.

University of Michigan officials have announced plans for designated protest areas where banners and flags will be prohibited and protesters will be subject to security screening.

Commencement will be overseen by volunteers who “start with alerts and respond to disruptions,” according to the university’s website.

Alifa Chaudhry of the Tahrir Coalition opposition group declined to comment on whether any disruptions were planned. He said the university had “totally ignored” opportunities for negotiations.

“It makes sense that they are implementing strategies and training staff to prevent protests from happening,” he said.

image caption, Police at Ohio State Camp

Nearly 200 miles (320 km) to the south, Ohio State University President Ted Carter vowed to protect students’ right to free speech while “enforcing rules preventing intentional disruption of university events, classes, examinations or programs.”.

Heba Latif, a Palestinian-American student and co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), did not say whether any protests were planned for the May 5 inauguration.

Graduation is scheduled for May 15 at Columbia. Police entered the campus earlier this week to remove student encroachment and will remain on campus throughout the opening term.

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

“They have been issuing disciplinary notices and suspensions from the university, probations and barring no one.

“I don’t see how bringing in the police is going to stop this movement.”

Protesters in Colombia did not respond when asked repeatedly if any disruptions were planned.

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