Columbia University cancels main graduation amid protests

Columbia University has cancelled its main graduation after weeks of protests on campus over the Israel-Gaza war.

The Ivy League school said it was ditching the 15 May commencement in favour of smaller celebrations to focus on "keeping them safe".

The New York City university said it had arrived at the decision after consultations with student leaders.

Colleges across the US are bracing for disruptions at graduations amid pro-Palestinian protests.

Columbia University said in a statement on Monday: "Our students emphasized that these smaller-scale, school-based celebrations are most meaningful to them and their families.

"They are eager to cross the stage to applause and family pride and hear from their school's invited guest speakers.

"As a result, we will focus our resources on those school ceremonies and on keeping them safe, respectful, and running smoothly."

There have been demonstrations at nearly 140 colleges across 45 states and Washington DC since the protests started at Columbia University in mid-April, according to a BBC tally.

About 2,500 people have been arrested at campuses nationwide, according to an Associated Press count.

Last week, Columbia called in the police to clear pro-Palestinian protesters from its campus in Upper Manhattan, leading to more than 100 arrests.

Demonstrators had occupied Hamilton Hall, renaming it Hind's Hall, after a six-year-old Palestinian girl who was killed in Gaza.

The college also sent in officers on 18 April to arrest more than 100 demonstrators who had pitched dozens of tents at the Morningside neighbourhood campus.

Pro-Palestinian protestors near an entrance to Columbia University on 30 April 2024
[Getty Images]

The protesters have been calling for the college to divest from companies they say are profiting from the Israel-Gaza war, but a number of incidents of antisemitism have been reported during the unrest.

Columbia has asked that New York police remain on campus until at least 17 May.

Also on Monday, Harvard University's President Alan Garber warned protesters must end the encampments on campus or face suspension.

Police in riot gear, meanwhile, arrested dozens of protesters while clearing a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of California San Diego.

Monday's raid came a day after police in Los Angeles cleared out a similar encampment at the University of Southern California (USC). No arrests were reported.

In a statement on Sunday, USC President Carol Folt said action had to be taken because the situation was "spiralling in a dangerous direction".

Also on Sunday, Northeastern University's graduation ceremony in Boston passed largely peacefully at the city's Fenway Park, with police on site.

Members of the graduating class held Palestinian flags and chanted pro-Palestinian phrases. Other students waved Israeli flags.

Similar demonstrations unfolded at the University of Michigan's commencement in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

The University of Mississippi, meanwhile, is investigating a student accused of apparently making monkey sounds towards a black woman during protests on campus last week. The student's membership of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity has been revoked.

Social media videos showed pro-Palestinian demonstrators shouted down by a larger group of counter-protesters last Thursday.

The college said it had opened an inquiry into "actions that conveyed hostility and racist overtones".

At Princeton University, at least 17 students said on Friday they would go on hunger strike until campus officials meet them to discuss divestment and a "cultural boycott of Israel".

They are also demanding the New Jersey college reverse punishment of students after police last week arrested 13 individuals for trespassing during an attempted sit-in.

The students were barred from campus and face disciplinary action including possible suspension or expulsion.

Also on Friday, faculty members from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) condemned the handling of student protests.

History department faculty members posted two letters condemning the administration after police last week swarmed the campus to clear an encampment.

University of Virginia history professors, meanwhile, released an open letter condemning that institution after police arrested 25 people on Saturday on campus, where pro-Palestinian protesters had refused to remove an encampment.