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Bittersweet ceremonies mark troubled times on US campuses

Walkouts, cancellations and threats to pro-Palestinian students mar commencement celebrations

By MINGMEI LI in New York | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-06-11 07:31

Harvard graduates block off Massachusetts Avenue during a demonstration in Cambridge, on May 23. [Photo/Agencies]

Next step

Many students view commencements as formal events where they can hear school board members and officials not only address current situations in the community, but also the next steps the school will take.

Despite student protesters' demands for disclosure and divestment, no university in the US has yet reached an agreement with a student body to end the billions of dollars that college endowments are claimed to have invested in companies that support Israel. School presidents have stated that they have no authority over investment decisions, as they are handled by trustees or investment boards.

Some institutions have reached partial agreements with protesters in recent weeks in relation to issues such as calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, providing financial aid to Palestinian students, and expanding the Palestinian studies curriculum.

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University in Rhode Island, reached an agreement with student representatives to clear a campus encampment on April 30.

The agreement stipulated that students would "refrain from further actions that would violate Brown's conduct code through the end of the academic year, which includes commencement and reunion weekend."

"The devastation and loss of life in the Middle East has prompted many to call for meaningful change, while also raising real issues about how best to accomplish this," Paxson said in a letter issued to the campus community.

"Brown has always prided itself on resolving differences through dialogue, debate and listening to each other. I cannot condone the encampment, which was in violation of university policies. Also, I have been concerned about the escalation in inflammatory rhetoric that we have seen recently and the increase in tensions at campuses across the country. I appreciate the sincere efforts on the part of our students to take steps to prevent further escalation."

The university agreed to invite five students to meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University last month to present their arguments for divesting Brown's endowment from "companies that facilitate the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory".

Paxson also said she would request that the Advisory Committee on University Resources Management provide a recommendation on divestment by September 30, which will then be taken to the corporation for a vote at its meeting in October.

The New School, a private research university in New York City, has also reached an agreement with students to hold a vote on divestment from Israel.

According to a university announcement issued on May 20, the Investment Committee of the Board of Trustees will make the decision on or before June 14.

The university concluded its schoolwide commencement on May 17. The New York Police Department confirmed it arrested 43 students from the university on May 3.

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