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Student protests often caused minor disruptions at various graduation ceremonies – WABE

Graduation ceremonies at a handful of universities across the country suffered minor disruptions this weekend as pro-Palestinian protesters staged walkouts, held chants and waved Palestinian flags during commencement speeches.

At UC Berkeley, dozens of graduates rose from their seats in Memorial Stadium Saturday morning holding signs that read “Divest” — a call for universities to divest from companies that have made investments in Israel because of the war in Gaza. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a small group of students carrying a Palestinian flag staged a silent protest at Camp Randall Stadium. At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, pro-Palestinian protesters splashed red paint on the steps of a building hours before the commencement ceremony.

The protests come as administrators at universities from California to New York have struggled to find the right balance in their response to the pro-Palestinian camps that have emerged in recent weeks. Schools including Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come under scrutiny for calling in police to dismantle encampments and arresting students who refused to disperse.

Other schools, including Northwestern and Brown, have reached agreements with students to consider at least some of their demands. The latest agreement came Sunday, when student protesters at Johns Hopkins University agreed to demolish their encampment — which began April 29 — after the university pledged to assess student demand for the university to divest in companies with ties to Israel.

During Saturday’s university-wide commencement ceremony, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ began the event by recognizing the student demonstrators.

“They feel passionately about the brutality of the violence in Gaza,” Christ told the crowd, adding: “I too am deeply disturbed by the terrible tragedy.”

Israel is now in the eighth month of its military offensive in Gaza, an operation it launched in response to the October 7 surprise attack by Hamas-led militants. More than 1,200 people were killed in the attack, while more than 200 others were taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, more than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed and around 78,000 injured as a result of the Israeli response.

As the speeches continued in Berkeley, a group of about 500 people ignored a government official’s warnings and gathered in an empty section of the stadium where they sang chants calling for the university to divest from Israel.

“This wouldn’t be Berkeley without protest,” said student body president Sydney Roberts, as her speech was disrupted by demonstrators’ chants.

While UC Berkeley students have been among the most vocal in their calls for the university to cut ties with Israel, recent protests have also been met with accusations of anti-Semitism from members of the campus Jewish community.

Known as the birthplace of free speech in the 1960s, the university has faced two federal investigations into allegations of anti-Semitism since the Oct. 7 attack — one from the Department of Education, the other by Republicans in the Congres.

Some protests went beyond the war in Gaza

Dozens of students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond staged a silent strike during Saturday’s graduation ceremony to protest Virginia’s Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s speech.

The university’s chapter of the NAACP had previously criticized the school’s decision to invite Youngkin because of his efforts to unravel a series of policies that have promoted diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

“Since becoming governor of Virginia, Youngkin has worked to intimidate and silence educators with anti-racist pedagogy,” the group wrote in a letter last week to university President Michael Rao and the board of visitors, urging them to withdraw Youngkin’s invitation. speak.

The letter cited a now-defunct tip line the governor briefly established where parents could report teachers teaching “divisive concepts” in schools and unravel legislation that rights groups claimed protected transgender youth.

Youngkin has defended his criticism of the DEI policy, previously stating that he believes it leads to lower standards in the name of “equality.”

All eyes on Biden’s upcoming speech

The recent disruptions come just a week before President Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver the address at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

The university has faced criticism from those opposed to Biden’s handling of the Gaza conflict and his more recent comments about student protesters – saying some of them used “violent” methods.

A group of faculty members will vote during this week’s ceremony on whether to award Biden an honorary degree.

In an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College, said he was “fully supportive” of Biden speaking at the college.

“The nation needs a place that can envision our ability to contain the tensions that threaten to divide our society in so many ways, that have divided some of the nation’s most venerable campuses,” Thomas said, adding “ that is what Morehouse was born to do.”

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