Harvard graduates walk out of commencement after weeks of protests

Hundreds of graduates at Harvard University walked out of their commencement Thursday after the school announced 13 students who participated in the recent pro-Palestinian protests on campus would not be allowed to receive their diplomas with fellow students.

Groups of graduates walked out chanting “Free, Free Palestine” and “Let them walk, let them walk” in reference to the students barred from walking at the ceremony, The Associated Press reported.

A total of more than 1,000 students participated in the walkout, according to the school’s protest groups.

Harvard’s administrative board determined the 13 students in question were not in “good standing” after they violated university policies through their involvement in the recent protest encampment on campus, the Harvard Corp. said in a written statement.

“In coming to this determination, we note that the express provisions of the Harvard College Student Handbook state that students who are not in good standing are not eligible for degrees,” according to the statement. “We understand that the inability to graduate is consequential for students and their families.”

Student speaker Shruthi Kumar touched upon the decision during Thursday’s ceremony, telling her fellow graduates, “This semester our freedom of speech and our expressions of solidarity became punishable,” per the AP. Kumar said she felt she had to recognize the 13 undergraduates who did not get to receive their degrees, adding she is “deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus.”

More than 1,500 students petitioned and nearly 500 staff and faculty spoke up over Harvard’s decision, Kumar said.

“This is about civil rights and upholding democratic principles,” she reportedly said. “The students had spoken. The faculty had spoken. Harvard, do you hear us?”

Harvard was one of scores of college campuses in the U.S. to recently be roiled by weeks-long pro-Palestinian protests. The encampments and other demonstrations called for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The Harvard Corp.’s Wednesday statement suggested the possibility of an appeals process for the students, noting it supports the faculty of arts and sciences’s intention to prove expedited review of appeal requests.

“We care deeply about every member of our community—students, faculty, staff, researchers, and alumni—and we have chosen a path forward that accords with our responsibilities and reaffirms a process for our students to receive prompt and fair review,” according to the statement.

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