NATIONAL NEWS

USC cancels graduation ceremony and dozens are arrested on other campuses as anti-war protests grow

Apr 25, 2024, 12:04 AM | Updated: 4:04 pm

The University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony Thursday and dozens more college students were arrested at other campuses nationwide as protests against the Israel-Hamas war continued to spread.

College officials across the U.S. are worried the ongoing protests could disrupt plans for commencement ceremonies next month. Some universities called in police to break up the demonstrations, resulting in ugly scuffles and arrests nationwide, while others appeared content to wait out student protests as the final days of the semester ticked down.

Schools such as Columbia University continued to negotiate with protesters, while others are rewriting their rules to ban encampments and moving final exams to new locations.

But encampments and protests continued to spring up Thursday. A tent encampment popped up at Indiana University Bloomington before police with shields and batons shoved into a line of protesters, arresting an unknown number.

At the City College of New York, hundreds of students who were gathered on the lawn beneath the Harlem campus’ famed gothic buildings erupted in cheers after a small contingent of police officers retreated from the scene. In one corner of the quad, a “security training” was held among students who said they expected to be arrested in the coming hours.

Students protesting the war are demanding schools cut financial ties to Israel and divest from companies enabling the conflict. Some Jewish students say the protests have veered into antisemitism and made them afraid to set foot on campus.

USC announced the cancellation of the May 10 graduation ceremony a day after more than 90 protesters were arrested on campus. The university said it will still host dozens of commencement events, including all the traditional individual school commencement ceremonies.

Tensions were already high after USC canceled a planned commencement speech by the school’s pro-Palestinian valedictorian, citing safety concerns.

“We understand that this is disappointing; however, we are adding many new activities and celebrations to make this commencement academically meaningful, memorable, and uniquely USC,” the university said in a statement Thursday.

The Los Angeles Police Department said 93 people were arrested Wednesday night during a campus protest for allegedly trespassing. One person was arrested on allegations of assault with a deadly weapon.

At Emerson College in Boston, 108 people were arrested overnight at an alleyway encampment. Video shows police first warning students in an alleyway to leave. Students link arms to resist officers, who move forcefully through the crowd and throw some protesters to the ground.

“As the night progressed, it got tenser and tenser. There were just more cops on all sides. It felt like we were being slowly pushed in and crushed,” said Ocean Muir, a sophomore.

“For me, the scariest moment was holding these umbrellas out in case we were tear-gassed, and hearing them come, and hearing their boots on the ground, just pounding into the ground louder than we could chant, and not being able to see a single person,” she said.

Muir said police lifted her by her arms and legs and carried her away. Along with other students, Muir was charged Thursday with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

Emerson College leaders had warned students that the alley was a public right-of-way and city authorities had threatened to take action if the protesters didn’t leave. Emerson canceled classes Thursday, and Boston police said four officers suffered injuries that were not life-threatening during the confrontation.

The University of Texas at Austin campus was much calmer Thursday after 57 people were jailed and charged with criminal trespass a day earlier. University officials pulled back barricades and allowed demonstrators onto the main square beneath the school’s iconic clock tower.

Thursday’s gathering of students and some faculty protested both the war and Wednesday’s arrests, when state troopers in riot gear and on horseback bulldozed into protesters, forcing hundreds of students off the school’s main lawn.

At Emory University in Atlanta, local and state police swept in to dismantle a camp, although the university said the protesters weren’t students but rather outside activists. Some officers carried semiautomatic weapons, and video shows officers using a stun gun on one protester whom they had pinned to the ground.

Jail records showed 22 people arrested by Emory police were charged with disorderly conduct.

Protesters at Emory chanted slogans supporting Palestinians and opposing a public safety training center being built in Atlanta. The two movements are closely entwined in Atlanta, where there have been years of “Stop Cop City” activism against the center.

Many colleges, including Harvard University, were choosing not to take immediate action against protesters who had set up tents, even though they were openly defying campus rules. And some colleges were making new rules, like Northwestern University, which hastily changed its student code of conduct Thursday morning to bar tents on its suburban Chicago campus.

George Washington University said it would move its law school finals from a building next to the protest encampment to a new location because of the noise.

The current wave of protests was inspired by events at Columbia University in New York, where police cleared an encampment and arrested more than 100 people last week, only for students to defiantly put up tents again, in an area where many are set to graduate in front of families in a few weeks.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said the ability to embrace student voices and different perspectives was a hallmark of the nation’s growth but warned authorities wouldn’t tolerate hate, discrimination or threats of violence.

Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the U.S. Education Department has launched civil rights investigations into dozens of universities and schools in response to complaints of antisemitism or Islamophobia. Among those under investigation are many colleges facing protests, including Harvard and Columbia.

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Perry reported from Meredith, New Hampshire. Contributing to this report were Associated Press journalists in various locations including Stefanie Dazio, Kathy McCormack, Jim Vertuno, Acacia Coronado, Sudhin Thanawala, Jeff Amy, Mike Stewart, Collin Binkley, Carolyn Thompson, Jake Offenhartz and Sophia Tareen.

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