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

A crowd of students protesting the war in Gaza have walked out of the University of Chicago’s commencement

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CHICAGO (AP) — Dozens of students protesting the war in Gaza walked out of the University of Chicago's commencement Saturday as the school withheld the diplomas of four seniors over their involvement with a pro-Palestinian encampment.

The disruption to the rainy two-hour outdoor ceremony was brief, with shouts, boos and calls to “Stop Genocide." A crowd of students walked out between speeches, and a demonstration followed the official ceremony. Some chanted as they held Palestinian flags, while others donned traditional kaffiyeh, black and white checkered scarves that represent Palestinian solidarity, over their robes.

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

“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 said in a Saturday statement.

University officials acknowledged the walkout, saying the school is “committed to upholding the rights of students to express a wide range of views,” according to a statement.

Students have walked out of commencements at Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and others as protest camps have sprung up across the U.S. and in Europe in recent weeks. Students have demanded their universities stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support its war in Gaza. Organizers seek to amplify calls to end Israel's war with Hamas, which they describe as a genocide against the Palestinians.

A small demonstration after the commencement, where protesters tried to access a closed street, resulted in the arrest of one person not affiliated with the school, university officials said in a statement.

The University of Chicago encampment was cleared May 7. Administrators had initially adopted a permissive approach, but later said the protest had crossed a line and caused growing concerns about safety. One group temporarily took over a building on the school's campus.

University officials have said the demonstrations prompted formal complaints including for “disruptive conduct,” and would require further review. The students were still able to participate in graduation, and can receive their degrees if they are later cleared after the university inquiry into alleged violations of campus policy. The university didn't have comment Saturday about the diplomas.

Thousands of students and faculty members have signed a petition calling for the university to grant the degrees, while more than a dozen Chicago City Council members have penned a letter asking for the same.

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