Columbia University cancels main commencement after protests that roiled campus for weeks

The ceremony was scheduled for May 15

TOPSHOT-US-POLITICS-EDUCATION-COLUMBIA-ISRAEL-PALESTINIANS-CONFL Pro-Palestinian and Pro-israel face off in front of the entrance of Columbia University which is occupied by Pro-Palestinian protesters in New York | AFP

Columbia University is cancelling its large university-wide commencement ceremony amid ongoing pro-Palestinian protests but will hold smaller school-based ceremonies this week and next, the university announced Monday.

Based on feedback from our students, we have decided to focus attention on our Class Days and school-level graduation ceremonies, where students are honoured individually alongside their peers, and to forego the university-wide ceremony that is scheduled for May 15, officials at the Ivy League school in upper Manhattan said in a statement.

Noting that the past few weeks have been incredibly difficult for the community, the school said in its announcement that it made the decision after discussions with students. Our students emphasised that these smaller-scale, school-based celebrations are most meaningful to them and their families, officials said. They are eager to cross the stage to applause and family pride and hear from their school's invited guest speakers.

Most of the ceremonies that had been scheduled for the south lawn of the main campus, where encampments were taken down last week, will take place about 5 miles north at Columbia's sports complex, officials said.

Columbia had already cancelled in-person classes. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who had camped out on Columbia's green were arrested last month, and similar encampments sprouted up at universities around the country as schools struggled with where to draw the line between allowing free expression while maintaining safe and inclusive campuses.

The University of Southern California earlier cancelled its main graduation ceremony while allowing other commencement activities to continue. Students abandoned their camp at USC early Sunday after being surrounded by police and threatened with arrest.

The protests stem from the conflict that started Oct 7 when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking roughly 250 hostages. Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched an offensive in Gaza that has killed more than 34,500 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. Israeli strikes have devastated the enclave and displaced most of its inhabitants.


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