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Universities prepare for protests ahead of graduation season

Photo: Mario Tama Getty Images via Agence France-Presse Pro-Palestinian demonstrators clash with security forces at the University of Southern California last Wednesday

Kim Bellware – The Washington Post, Jonathan Edwards – The Washington Post, Daniel Wu – The Washington Post

Posted at 10:26 a.m. Updated at 10:35 a.m.

  • United States

The University of Southern California (USC) has canceled its main convocation ceremony and implemented a series of safety measures for those who will visit campus during the celebration weekend in early May, sign that student-led pro-Palestinian protests rocking university campuses are beginning to disrupt graduation plans.

University will still hold convocations specific to each school or faculty, during which students will receive their diploma. On the other hand, it abandons the main ceremony on May 10, which usually welcomes some 65,000 students and community members, she announced Thursday. Additionally, May 8-11, USC will require a ticket for entry to campus, screen attendees before events, and only allow clear bags.

As at a growing number of other universities, tumultuous scenes unfolded Wednesday on the USC campus in Los Angeles: police officers arrested 93 people while dispersing a pro-Palestinian demonstration.< b> Students protesting the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza had set up camp on the lawn in the center of campus, where the main graduation ceremony was to take place. school, reported the Los Angeles Times.

This cancellation comes as several American universities are considering their plans before welcoming, in a few weeks, thousands of students, their families and their professors for graduation. As they prepare, the specter of disruption looms, as student-led protests have resulted in police crackdowns, arrests, and evictions of students from campus housing. USC and others quickly faced backlash, after attempting to defuse the controversy by limiting students' convocation speeches or announcing that there would be designated protest zones during ceremonies.

The president of Columbia University, Minouche Shafik, said in a statement last Tuesday that she hoped that the disruptions caused by the demonstrations would not interfere with the planned ceremony. on May 15.

“I am deeply sensitive to the fact that final-year students spent their first year at Columbia remotely,” Shafik emphasized, referring to closures related to the coronavirus pandemic. “We all want these students to be able to celebrate their well-deserved graduation with their family and friends. »

A Columbia spokesperson said in an email to the Washington Post that it was monitoring protests on campus, but declined to confirm any changes in event plans.

Universities prepare for protests ahead of graduation season

Photo: Spencer Platt Getty Images via Agence France-Presse A camp of pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University, April 22

The tension had been palpable for a while at USC. The school had already announced that it would not have this year's valedictorian present at convocation, citing vague security concerns. Major Asna Tabassum, who is Muslim, has expressed pro-Palestinian views. University officials said news of her selection as a speaker at the event sparked reactions that “took an alarming turn,” but they did not say whether they were threats. Faced with the backlash, the University canceled the graduation speech given by the principal, Jon M. Chu, a former student.

Eight City University of New York (CUNY) law students have filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the school's administrators following the September 2023 decision ending the practice of long-standing practice of electing a student to speak at convocation.

Eric Horowitz, 26, plaintiff in the case and third-year law student , told the Washington Postthat the opportunity for students to choose a speaker was particularly important in the “seventh month of a genocide,” a charge Israel has denied since the Hamas attack on its territory on October 7 and the war that followed in the Gaza Strip, where more than 34,000 people have been killed, according to the local Health Ministry. South Africa has taken the matter to the International Court of Justice, claiming that Israel is violating international law by committing genocidal acts and failing to prevent them. The Court ordered Israel to do more to prevent civilian deaths.

Mr. Horowitz, who is a board member of the CUNY Jewish Law Students Association, said university officials ended the practice of allowing speakers chosen by students to speak after two of them criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. This has led some to characterize the speeches as anti-Semitic, which Horowitz denies.

“We believe it is more important than ever to make our voices heard in solidarity with the people of Palestine,” he said.

CUNY Law School officials did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this month, University of Michigan officials announced that they would set up, outside the ceremony venue, an area reserved for demonstrations. The decision was made after protesters “significantly disrupted” the annual convocation. What Rector Santa Ono called “an unacceptable intrusion into one of the university's most important traditions.”

“We must all understand that while protest is a valuable and protected right, disruption is not,” Mr. Ono said. “The right of one group to protest does not supersede the right of others to participate in a joyful event,” he added.

The incident led authorities to propose a “disruptive activity policy,” under which students could be suspended or expelled for violations. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan called the policy “vague and excessive” and said it risks “stifling free speech on campus.”

Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League sent an open letter to university presidents, calling on them to “take clear and decisive action now to ensure the smooth running of convocations, events and activities, and for all students and their families to feel safe, welcomed, and celebrated.”

In the letter, the organization's president, Jonathan Greenblatt, suggests that officials strengthen policies regarding disruption of university events and then communicate to students the rules and consequences for violating them.

“Graduation is a time of joy and celebration,” Mr. Greenblatt wrote. We ask you, leaders of the Jewish community, to take your role seriously and ensure that Jewish students — and all students — are not deprived of a positive and memorable event in their lives. »

With Susan Svrluga

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116