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June 18, 2024

After weeks of pro-Palestinian protests on campuses, colleges regroup ahead of commencement ceremonies

After weeks of pro-Palestinian protests on campuses nationwide have led to more than 2,300 arrests, many universities are now regrouping in preparation for their upcoming commencement ceremonies, with some taking place as early as this weekend.

The University of Michigan, Northeastern, Arizona State and Ohio State are among the schools where protests have occurred and are slated to have graduation ceremonies this weekend. School administrations are issuing warnings that anyone planning on disrupting the ceremonies will be removed from campus, as students at dozens of institutions continue to protest in support of Palestinian human rights.

Pro-Palestinian protesters at an encampment set up at Northeastern University on April 25.Joseph Prezioso / AFP – Getty Images file
Police watch as pro-Palestinian protesters create a human chain around an encampment set up at Northeastern University in Boston on April 25.Joseph Prezioso / AFP – Getty Images

“Please show respect for everyone who has come to share in the experience,” Arizona State University said on its website. “Individuals who engage in inappropriate or disruptive behavior may be removed from the event.”

Students waved Palestinian flags during Saturday’s commencement at the University of Michigan. Banners in the sky displayed messages such as “DIVEST FROM ISRAEL NOW! FREE PALESTINE!” and “WE STAND WITH ISRAEL JEWISH LIVES MATTER.”

In a statement issued following commencement, University of Michigan assistant vice president for public affairs Colleen Mastony said approximately 75 protesters staged a demonstration at the beginning of the program by walking up to the main aisle and chanting. They were escorted by public safety personnel to the rear of the stadium, where they stayed until commencement ended.

A Palestinian flag flies over supplies set up for Columbia’s upcoming commencement ceremony.Alex Kent / Getty Images file

“There were no arrests,” Mastony said. “Peaceful protests like this have taken place at U-M commencement ceremonies for decades. The university supports free speech and expression, and university leaders are pleased that today’s commencement was such a proud and triumphant moment, worthy of the achievements of our extraordinary graduates.”

Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a rally on the campus of Ohio State University on May 1.Andrew Spear / Getty Images

Administrations are also hiring extra security and screening attendees at venues, The Associated Press reported.

Columbia University, where police cleared a weekslong encampment and the campus’ Hamilton Hall, is rethinking its commencement ceremony planned for May 15, according to a source at the university. After a meeting with top university leaders Friday, two members of student government said administrators indicated they are not sure they can hold a commencement ceremony on the main Morningside Heights campus in Manhattan because of security concerns.

The source at the university said the main commencement ceremony was slated to be canceled, but smaller events were still being planned. As of Saturday, it is unclear if final decisions have been made.

Students at the University of Michigan rally against Israeli attacks on Gaza.Katie McTiernan / Anadolu via Getty Images file

Protests continue to linger on campuses across the country, with ongoing activities at New York University and the New School in New York.

The University of Virginia’s department of safety and security on Saturday declared a protest on campus and “unlawful assembly” and asked the community to avoid the area. Local police and other law enforcement departments were on campus, where an encampment was set up.

In a statement, the university said protesters refused to disperse, leading to 25 people being detained and accused of trespassing. It was unclear how many of them are affiliated with UVA, the school said, adding, “The scene was declared stable around 4 p.m.”

At Princeton University, a group of students have initiated a food strike as part of their protest in support of the Palestinian cause. Leaders of the campaign, Princeton Israeli Apartheid Divest, did not specify how many students are taking part in it.

“Participants will abstain from all food and drink (except water) until our demands are met,” the group said in an Instagram post. “We commit our bodies to their liberation of Palestine. PRINCETON, hear us now! We will not be moved!”

At the University of Mississippi, a group of pro-Palestinian protesters was surrounded by a larger and rowdier group of counterprotesters Thursday. Police had to escort the protesters in the pro-Palestinian group into a building for their safety. Videos of the protest posted on social media show the larger crowd, which appeared to contain about 200 mostly white young people, surrounding and shouting down the multiracial group of between 30 and 60 pro-Palestinian protesters.

A demonstration in support to Palestinian people at University College London on May 3.Benjamin Cremel / AFP via Getty Images

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations are now gaining traction across the world, from London, Paris and Rome to Sydney, Tokyo, Beirut and beyond.

The protests around the globe were launched in response to Israel’s monthslong military assault on the Gaza Strip, but students told NBC News they were also inspired by the dramatic scenes from colleges in the U.S. in recent weeks.

Pro-Palestinian protests have sprouted up at Sciences Po in France, the University of Leeds in England and the University of Sydney in Australia.

Mirna Alsharif

Breaking news reporter

Matthew Mata


Michelle Acevedo



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