Yale graduates stage pro-Palestinian walkout of commencement

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Scores of graduating students staged a walkout from Yale University’s commencement exercises on Monday, protesting the Israeli war in Gaza, Yale’s financial ties to weapons makers and its response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the Ivy League campus.

The walkout began as Yale President Peter Salovey started to announce the traditional college-by-college presentation of candidates for degrees on the grounds of Yale’s Old Campus, filled with thousands of graduates in their caps and gowns.

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At least 150 students seated near the front of the audience stood up together, turned their backs to the stage and paraded out of the ceremony through Phelps Gate, retracing their steps during the processional into the yard.

Many of the protesters carried small banners with such slogans as “Books not bombs” and “Divest from war.” Some wore red-colored latex gloves symbolizing bloodied hands.

Other signs read: “Drop the charges” and “Protect free speech” in reference to 45 people arrested in a police crackdown last month on demonstrations in and around the New Haven, Connecticut, campus.

The walkout drew a chorus of cheers from fellow students in the crowd, but the protest was otherwise peaceful, without disruption. No mention of it was made from the stage.

Yale is one of dozens of U.S. campuses roiled by protests over the mounting Palestinian humanitarian crisis stemming from Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip following the bloody Oct. 7 cross-border attack on Jewish settlements by Hamas militants.

The University of Southern California canceled its main graduation ceremony altogether, and dozens of students walked out of Duke University’s commencement last week to protest its guest speaker, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has supported Israel throughout the war in Gaza. Fallout from a violent attack weeks ago on pro-Palestinian activists encamped at the University of California, Los Angeles, reverberated on the UC Santa Cruz campus on Monday as academic workers there staged a protest strike organized by their union.

Also on Monday, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League university in New Hampshire, narrowly voted to censure president Sian Beilock, according to a college spokesperson, for her decision to call in police to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment on May 1. The censure vote does not directly endanger Beilock’s job.

The police action resulted in the arrest of 89 people and some injuries.

Much of the student activism has been aimed at academic institutions’ financial ties with Israel and U.S. military programs benefiting the Jewish state.

Protests in sympathy with Palestinians have in turn been branded by pro-Israel supporters as antisemitic, testing the boundaries between freedom of expression and hate speech. Many schools have called in police to quell the demonstrations.

At UC Santa Cruz on Monday, hundreds of unionized academic researchers, graduate teaching assistants and post-doctoral scholars went on strike to protest what they said were the university’s unfair labor practices in its handling of pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

The strikers are members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 4811, which represents some 2,000 grad students and other academic workers at UC Santa Cruz, and about 48,000 total across all 10 University of California campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Last week, the UAW 4811 rank-and-file voted to authorize union leaders to organize a series of “standup” strikes through the end of June on individual or groups of UC campuses rather than across the entire university.

The Santa Cruz strike marked the first union-backed protest in solidarity with the recent wave of pro-Palestinian student activists, whose numbers, according to the UAW, include graduate students arrested at several University of California campuses.

Union leaders said a major impetus for the strike was the arrest of 210 people at the scene of a pro-Palestinian protest camp torn down by police at UCLA on May 2.

The night before, a group of pro-Israel supporters physically attacked the encampment and its occupiers in a melee that went on for at least three hours before police moved in to quell the disturbance. The university has since opened an investigation of the incident.

The strikers also are demanding amnesty for grad students who were arrested or face discipline for their involvement in the protests.

UC Santa Cruz issued a statement saying campus entrances were briefly blocked in the morning by demonstrators, prompting the school to switch to remote instruction for the day.

The University of California has filed its own unfair labor practice complaint with the state Public Employee Relations Board asking the state to order a halt to the strike.

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