Friday May 24th, 2024 8:58AM

Small pro-Palestinian protests held Saturday as college commencements are held

By The Associated Press

Small pro-Palestinian protests popped up sporadically Saturday as colleges and universities from North Carolina to California held commencement ceremonies, including dozens of graduating students at Virginia Commonwealth University who walked out on an address by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

While some of the estimated 100 students and family members who left during the Republican governor's speech showed support for Palestinians, others held signs signaling opposition to Youngkin's policies on education, according to WRIC-TV.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a small group of demonstrators staged what appeared to be a silent protest during commencement at Camp Randall Stadium. A photo posted by the Wisconsin State Journal showed about six people walking through the rear of the stadium, with two carrying a Palestinian flag.

Marc Lovicott, a spokesperson for campus police, said the group, which he believed were students because they were wearing caps and gowns, “was kind of guided out but they left on their own.” No arrests were made.

The demonstration came after pro-Palestinian protesters at the campus agreed Friday to permanently dismantle their two-week-old encampment and not disrupt graduation ceremonies in return for the opportunity to connect with “decision-makers” who control university investments by July 1. The university agreed to increase support for scholars and students affected by wars in Gaza and Ukraine.

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, pro-Palestinian demonstrators splattered red paint on the steps of a building hours ahead of the school’s commencement ceremony and chanted on campus while students wearing light blue graduation gowns posed for photos, the News & Observer reported. At the University of Texas, Austin, a student held up a Palestinian flag during a commencement ceremony and refused to leave the stage briefly before being escorted away by security.

And at the University of California, Berkeley, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators began waving flags and chanting during commencement and were escorted to the back of the stadium, where they were joined by others, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. There were no major counterprotests, but some attendees voiced frustration.

“I feel like they’re ruining it for those of us who paid for tickets and came to show our pride for our graduates,” said Annie Ramos, whose daughter is a student. “There’s a time and a place, and this is not it.”

Saturday's events were less dramatic than what happened on other campuses Friday, when police made dozens of arrests as pro-Palestinian protest encampments were dismantled at the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Those actions came hours after police tear-gassed demonstrators and took down a similar camp at the University of Arizona.

The Associated Press has recorded at least 75 instances since April 18 in which arrests were made at U.S. campus protests. Nearly 2,900 people have been arrested at 57 colleges and universities. The figures are based on AP reporting and statements from schools and law enforcement agencies.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, Youngkin, who also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Saturday's commencement, did not appear to address the students who left the event.

“The world needs your music,” Youngkin said during his speech. “You, all of you, will be the symphony. Make it a masterpiece.”

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Associated Press writers Rick Callahan in Indianapolis and Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

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