Mass walkout at Harvard commencement in support of pro-Palestinian protesters

Protest camp returns to UCLA as university administrators testify before Congress

Graduates at Harvard University in Massachusetts hold Palestinian flags and chant as they walk out in support of students barred from graduating due to protest activities. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

More than 1,000 students walked out of a Harvard University commencement ceremony on Thursday in support of 13 undergraduates who were not allowed to graduate after participating in a pro-Palestinian protest on campus.

Anti-war protests are continuing to pop up or be cleared by police amid graduation season and as Congress continues to pressure university leaders.

The Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that hundreds of students walked out as degrees were being distributed. Some faculty members were seen participating, it said.

“Let them walk,” many chanted, in reference to 13 students who were denied their degrees for being involved in an anti-war camp on the Harvard Yard lawn.

The protest followed speeches by graduating students who voiced their frustration over the administration's decision.

“As I stand here today, I must take a moment to recognise my peers – the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 that will not graduate today,” Shruthi Kumar said in what was reported as off-script remarks during her speech.

“I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and their right to civil disobedience on campus.”

Harvard suspended the university's Palestine Solidarity Committee in April.

Rhodes scholar Asmer Asrar Safi posted on X that he was not “allowed to graduate” and reminded fellow students that thousands of “Gazan kids will never graduate”.

Graduate Robert Clinton IV addressed the campus atmosphere in his speech, saying: “This year, I’ve been reminded of just how exposed we are. Anti-Semitism. Islamophobia. Anti-Arab bias. Doxing. Death threats. Losing jobs. Losing a president. Losing friends. Losing our right to free speech.”

The Crimson reported that many involved in the walkout waved Palestinian flags and wore keffiyehs. They went to a nearby church for a “People's Commencement”, an alternative graduation event.

American universities have seen a historic wave of student demonstrations calling for their administrations to disclose investments and divest from any funds tied to Israel's actions in occupied Palestinian territories.

Universities have either negotiated with student groups on their demands or requested police to clear protest camps, leading to more than 3,000 arrests nationwide.

In Washington, the leaders of University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Northwestern University in Illinois and Rutgers University of New Jersey testified before the House of Representatives on how educational institutions have addressed campus tension since the Hamas-led October 7 attack on Israel.

“With the benefit of hindsight, we should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment if and when the safety of our community was put at risk,” UCLA chancellor Gene Block said.

UCLA was the site of a violent, hours-long clash in which a pro-Israel group attacked pro-Palestine protesters at a camp, according to reports and videos posted to social media. The camp was later cleared by police, who arrested 200 people.

Also on Thursday, campus newspaper The Daily Bruin reported that student protesters had set up a new camp shortly after Mr Block's testimony and said that private security were on the scene.

A demonstrator told the paper that they will remain until negotiations start with the university administration about their demands.

UCLA's police chief in Los Angeles has been removed from his post three weeks after campus officials came under fire for their handling of the encampment.

John Thomas, who was formally named head of the UCLA police force in January after a year as interim chief, has been “reassigned temporarily, pending an examination of our security processes”, vice chancellor Mary Osako said in a statement on Wednesday.

Updated: May 23, 2024, 10:23 PM