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University of Chicago faces pro-Palestinian walkout amid diploma controversy

June 2, 2024 at 11:20 am

Pro-Palastinian protesters demonstrate at the University of Chicago after campus police dismantled an encampment, in Chicago, Illinois, on 7 May, 2024 [ALEX WROBLEWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]

The University of Chicago’s commencement ceremony yesterday saw hundreds of students walking out in protest over the institution’s decision to withhold diplomas from four students involved in a pro-Palestinian demonstration. The rainy two-hour outdoor ceremony was briefly interrupted by shouts, boos, and chants of “Stop Genocide” in reference to the war on Gaza.

The university had decided not to award degrees to four students, including Youssef Haweh, due to their participation in a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus. “My diploma doesn’t matter when there are people in Palestine and in Gaza that will never walk a stage again, who will never receive a diploma. What about them? Who’s going to fight for them?” Haweh was quoted as saying.

University officials acknowledged the walkout, while claiming to uphold their commitment to free speech.

“A group of students walked out early in the ceremony. The program concluded without further incident. The University is fundamentally committed to upholding the rights of students to express a wide range of views,” a statement read.

READ: Scores arrested as pro-Palestine protests continue on US campuses

Tensions escalated when demonstrators attempted to access a closed street, resulting in the arrest of one individual unaffiliated with the university. The protest stemmed from the university’s dismantling of a pro-Palestinian encampment on 7 May, citing safety concerns.

The withheld diplomas are pending a disciplinary review due to complaints of “disruptive conduct.” Despite the controversy, the university proceeded with the ceremony, celebrating its 538th Convocation.

Nationwide, similar protests have occurred at other institutions like Harvard and MIT, with students demanding their universities cut ties with entities supporting Israel’s genocidal actions in Gaza.

It has also been reported that several other universities across the country are withholding, or threatening to withhold, the diplomas of seniors who engaged in pro-Palestine demonstrations on their campuses. On Friday, the University of California, Los Angeles threatened to discipline and withhold the diplomas of at least 55 students who were involved in pro-Palestine demonstrations.

Princeton has held the degrees of at least two seniors who were involved in a pro-Palestine walkout held during an annual event last week, according to the college’s student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian.

READ: Nearly 2,500 people arrested at pro-Palestinian rallies at colleges and universities across US