Disruptions at University of Chicago graduation as school denies 4 diplomas over protests

Crowd of students protesting war in Gaza left University of Chicago commencement ceremony

CHICAGO — Dozens of students protesting the war in Gaza walked out of the University of Chicago’s commencement ceremony Saturday as the school withdrew the diplomas of four high school students because of their involvement in a pro-Palestinian encampment.

The disruption of the rainy two-hour outdoor ceremony was brief, with shouts, boos and calls to “Stop the genocide.” A crowd of students came out between speeches and a demonstration followed the official ceremony. Some chanted Palestinian flags. Others wore a traditional keffiyeh, a black and white checkered scarf that represents Palestinian solidarity, over their dresses.

Four graduating seniors, including Youssef Haweh, were informed by email in recent days that their diplomas would be withheld pending disciplinary proceedings related to complaints about the encampment, according to the student group UChicago United for Palestine.

“My diploma doesn’t matter when there are people in Palestine and Gaza who will never stand on stage again, who will never receive a diploma. And them? Who will fight for them? Haweh said in a statement Saturday.

University officials acknowledged the walkout, saying the school was “committed to defending students’ rights to express a broad range of opinions,” according to a statement.

Students have abandoned their studies at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other institutions as protest camps have sprung up across the United States and Europe in recent weeks. Students have asked their universities to stop doing business with Israel or with companies they say support its war in Gaza. Organizers seek to amplify calls to end the war between Israel and Hamas, which they call a genocide against the Palestinians.

A small demonstration after commencement, in which demonstrators attempted to gain access to a closed street, resulted in the arrest of a person unaffiliated with the school, university officials said in a communicated.

The University of Chicago encampment was emptied on May 7. Administrators initially took a permissive approach, but later said the protest crossed limits and sparked growing concerns about safety. A group has temporarily taken over a building on the school campus.

University officials said the protests resulted in formal complaints, including for “disruptive conduct,” and would require further review. Students have still been able to participate in their graduation and can receive their diplomas if they are later cleared after the university investigation into alleged violations of campus policy. The university had no comment Saturday on the degrees.

Thousands of students and faculty signed a petition asking the university to issue these degrees, while more than a dozen Chicago City Council members wrote a letter asking for the same.

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