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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Main graduation ceremony at Columbia University called off following demonstrations


NEW YORK — In a surprising⁣ turn of events, Columbia‍ University announced on Monday that it has decided ⁤to cancel its primary graduation ceremony. This decision comes ⁢after weeks of​ intense pro-Palestinian protests that have significantly⁣ disrupted the Ivy League institution’s​ campus. However, the university will continue to host smaller, school-specific graduation events.

“The decision to cancel the large-scale commencement ceremony on our campus was driven by security concerns that, regrettably, we could⁣ not overcome,” stated Columbia spokesman Ben Chang.‌ “We⁣ share our students’ deep ‌disappointment with this outcome.” The graduation was originally planned for May 15.

Chang further explained that the university⁢ had explored alternative venues but was unable to find⁣ a suitable location ‌that could​ comfortably​ accommodate ‍the students, ⁢their families, and guests, who usually number over 50,000.

The ​protests‍ at Columbia, which have garnered national attention, have sparked similar demonstrations at numerous universities⁣ across⁣ the U.S. Students are calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and demanding that their⁤ schools​ divest from companies associated with Israel.

On​ Monday, Hamas announced its agreement to a ⁢cease-fire proposal with Israel in Gaza. ‍However, Israel described it as a “softened”⁣ Egyptian proposal ‍that was not ​acceptable to them.

During the ongoing 7-month conflict, over 34,600 Palestinians have lost their lives due to Israel’s military operations in Gaza, as per health ⁣officials in the Hamas-controlled Palestinian enclave. The conflict began when Hamas militants attacked Israel ⁣on Oct. 7, resulting in about‌ 1,200 deaths and ‌the abduction of 252 individuals, 133 of ‌whom are believed ⁤to still be held captive in Gaza, according to Israeli reports.

As⁢ the ‍protests ​gained momentum at U.S. colleges,​ some institutions, including Columbia, resorted to calling in riot police armed with batons and flash-bang grenades to disperse and arrest hundreds of protesters,⁣ citing the utmost need ⁤for campus safety. Civil rights groups have criticized ‍such tactics as unnecessary violent infringements on ​free speech.

The unrest‌ on campuses has led colleges across the United States to relocate, modify, or cancel⁤ commencement ceremonies altogether.

In April, the University ⁤of Southern California also canceled its main-stage ceremony, just one week after canceling the valedictorian speech by a Muslim student who claimed she was ‌silenced ‍by anti-Palestinian sentiment.

Columbia announced on Monday that it had consulted ⁣with ⁣student leaders in deciding how ‍to handle graduation. The majority of ‍the​ smaller ceremonies, which were initially ⁢set⁣ to take place on its upper Manhattan campus, ‌where most of the protests have occurred, will ⁣now take place at the main athletic⁢ complex about five ‍miles away.

The demonstrations have become a political flashpoint‌ during​ a contentious U.S. election year as Democratic President Joe Biden and Republican former U.S President‍ Donald Trump ‌face off in a rematch ​for the White House.

Rally for Israel, Jewish students

Republican U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, who‍ previously criticized ​Columbia’s administrators‌ for ​being too lenient on demonstrators during a campus visit in April, lambasted them again on Monday. He stated that the decision to cancel commencement denied thousands of graduates the recognition they deserved.

Johnson also urged the school’s⁤ board of trustees to remove university President Nemat‌ Minouche ⁣Shafik, arguing that the cancellation demonstrated she would rather “cede control to Hamas supporters than restore ​order.”

An Israel advocacy ​group, the Israeli-American Council, planned a⁢ rally to support Jewish, ⁣Israeli-American, and Israeli students⁣ on Monday evening near Columbia’s ⁢campus. They described the campus protests as ⁣”anti-Israel and antisemitic.”

Last week, New York City police cleared a Columbia building‍ that had been barricaded by‍ pro-Palestinian protesters,​ arresting ⁤more than 100 people in⁣ and around the‍ campus ⁣and dismantling an encampment.

Other⁣ U.S. universities have continued⁣ grappling this ⁢week with how to clear their⁢ campuses of protesters.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge near ​Boston ⁢warned protesters on Monday that if they did not ⁤vacate an encampment by 2:30 p.m. EDT, ‍they would face immediate suspension, barring them from participating in any academic​ activities for the rest of the semester.

“No matter how peaceful the students’ behavior may be, unilaterally taking over a central portion of our campus ‌… and precluding use by other members of our community is not right,”⁤ MIT⁢ President Sally Kornbluth said in⁤ a statement.

At nearby ‌Harvard ​University, interim President Alan Garber announced on Monday‍ that protesters‌ who continued ⁣participating in a two-week-old encampment would be referred for “involuntary leave,” meaning they may not be able to sit for exams, reside in Harvard housing or be on ‍campus until⁤ reinstated.

“As we begin our extensive preparations for Commencement, this ongoing violation of ⁢our policies becomes more consequential,” said Garber, citing ‌reports ⁢from some⁣ students that the camp disrupted their ability ‌to sleep, study and move ‌freely about the campus.

At ​the ‍University of California, Los Angeles, where pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian protesters clashed last week and where⁣ police arrested more than 200 people‌ while clearing a pro-Palestinian encampment on Thursday, Chancellor Gene Block on Sunday announced a new Office of Campus Safety.

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  1. Good punctuation and grammar, agree:
    It’s disappointing that the graduation ceremony had to be called off, but the safety and well-being of everyone involved is the top priority.


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