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Commencement Ceremonies at Risk of Being Overshadowed by Student Protests

Student protests threaten to overshadow commencements (Credits: Yahoo News UK)

As the academic year draws to close, pro-Palestinian student activists are gearing up for one final push before campuses empty out for the summer: commencement.

Tens of thousands of families and friends are expected to attend graduation ceremonies across the country starting this weekend, and universities are bracing themselves for potential disruptions. Over 2,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests, and schools are under pressure to maintain order while addressing activists’ concerns.

Some universities, like Rutgers, Northwestern, and Brown, have agreed with protesters to dismantle encampments and avoid disruptions during commencement peacefully.

With graduation near, colleges seek to balance safety and students’ right to protest Gaza war (Credits: The Independent)

However, many have opted for a more forceful approach, using police to clear out encampments. Despite these efforts, law professor William Jacobson predicts that disruptions will still occur, albeit more sequentially and scattered.

Universities are under scrutiny from Republicans and other critics who accuse them of failing to address antisemitism on campus. Liora Rez, founder of StopAntisemitism, warns that pro-Palestinian activists will seize any opportunity to hijack the spotlight and harass Jewish and pro-Israel students. The University of Southern California (USC) canceled its commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns.

The first major commencements take place this weekend at the University of Michigan and Ohio State University, with Michigan also facing a House hearing later this month on antisemitism on campus. While some advocate for clear rules and consequences for disruptions, others call for a zero-tolerance policy for abusive and discriminatory speech.

Anti-war protests may disrupt graduation ceremony (Credits: Esquare)

Student activists like Ale Humano at CUNY School of Law hope to see a show of solidarity across campuses, with students coming together to demand an end to the violence in Gaza.

However, Jacobson cautions that disrupting graduation ceremonies may not be the most effective way to advance their cause, as it may alienate the public and punish fellow students rather than the school or Israel.

As commencement season begins, all eyes will be on how universities balance free speech with maintaining order and addressing activists’ concerns. Will they find a way to change these competing demands, or will disruptions and controversies dominate the headlines? Only time will tell.

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