Pro-Palestinian protests briefly disrupt University of Michigan graduation

By Maria Caspani

(Reuters) -Pro-Palestinian protesters briefly disrupted a commencement ceremony at the University of Michigan on Saturday while demonstrators faced off with police at the University of Virginia as U.S. colleges braced for more turmoil during graduation festivities.

Students across the U.S. have rallied or set up tents at dozens of universities to protest the months-long war in Gaza and call on President Joe Biden, who has supported Israel, to do more to stop the bloodshed in Gaza. They also demand their schools divest from companies that support Israel’s government, such as arms suppliers.

Videos shared on social media showed dozens of students wearing the traditional keffiyeh headdress and graduation caps and waving Palestinian flags as they walked down the center aisle of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, among cheers and boos from a crowd of thousands.

The ceremony continued and campus police escorted the protesters toward the back of the stadium, but no arrests were made, according to Colleen Mastony, a spokesperson for the university.

“Peaceful protests like this have taken place at U-M commencement ceremonies for decades,” Mastony said in a statement. “The university supports free speech and expression, and university leaders are pleased that today’s commencement was such a proud and triumphant moment.”

The weekend brought more action across U.S. campuses where contrasting views over Israel’s war in Gaza have erupted, sometimes violently, over the last couple of weeks.

Many of the schools, including Columbia University in New York City, have called in police to quell the protests.

Tensions briefly flared up once more on Saturday at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Police officers in riot gear can be seen in a video moving on an encampment of pro-Palestinian protesters, cuffing some demonstrators with zip ties and dragging them across the lawn.

Police have so far arrested over 2,000 protesters at colleges around the country.

The University of Michigan is one of the many universities which altered their security protocols for graduation ceremonies.

The school told Reuters last week it trained staff volunteers in how to mitigate disruptions, a change from the usual duties of guiding guests around campus and showing them to their seats.

The anti-war protests have been staged in response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which it launched after a Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that Israel says killed 1,200 people. Israel has killed over 34,000 people in retaliation, according to Gaza health authorities, and flattened the Palestinian territory.


Campus protests have emerged as a new political flashpoint during a hotly contested and deeply divisive U.S. election year.

On Thursday, a pro-Palestinian protest at the University of Mississippi was met by a larger crowd of counter-protesters singing the national anthem and carrying U.S. flags.

The events at Ole Miss, the state’s flagship university, drew widespread outrage and condemnation after a viral video showed a group of mostly white students taunting a Black female protester. Some shouted racist remarks and one individual can be heard making what sounded like monkey noises at the Black student.

While the university’s chancellor condemned the “racist overtones” of the incident and said an investigation was underway, Georgia Republican U.S. Representative Mike Collins shared the video on his X account on Friday, writing “Ole Miss taking care of business.

Collins’ office did not respond to a request for comment.

Another Republican, North Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, on Saturday said he was sending Chick-fil-A, a popular U.S. fast food chain, to the counter-protesters who “protected our flag and stood up for America” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill earlier this week.

“The actions of these young men make me hopeful for the next generation’s love for our country,” Graham’ X post read.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani; Editing by Josie Kao)

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