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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Harvard University bars graduating students over pro-Palestine protest

These students, involved in a three-week pro-Palestine encampment on campus, were barred from graduation by the Harvard Corporation.

More than two weeks have passed since Harvard University’s commencement ceremony on May 23, 2024, but Asmer Asrar Safi and 12 other students are still waiting to receive their degrees. These students, involved in a three-week pro-Palestine encampment on campus, were barred from graduation by the Harvard Corporation, the university’s top governing body.

Safi, an international student from Lahore, Pakistan, completed his degree requirements but now faces uncertainty about his future plans, including matriculating as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Similarly, Shraddha Joshi, another affected student, had her plans to pursue a master’s degree at the University of Cambridge disrupted due to the indefinite delay in her degree conferral.

Administrative Response

The decision has left students and faculty in limbo, waiting for the outcome of appeals with little clarity on the process. Despite assurances from interim President Alan Garber to expedite disciplinary processes, students like Safi and Joshi find themselves in a frustrating wait, highlighting the lack of transparency and communication from the administration.

Read More: Oxford University partners with Balochistan for Benazir Scholarship Program

The Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine (HOOP) coalition, which led the encampment, negotiated an end to the protest with promises of meetings with university governing boards and the reinstatement of students placed on involuntary leave. However, students claim that the university did not honor these commitments, continuing to discipline them in unprecedented ways.

Academic Freedom and Campus Climate

Harvard’s handling of the protests has sparked a broader debate about academic freedom and the right to protest, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The resignation of Harvard’s first Black president, Claudine Gay, in January amid allegations of plagiarism and criticism over her handling of anti-Semitism on campus, added to the university’s turbulent year.

Students argue that the decision to establish the encampment was in line with Harvard’s historical protest movements, such as those against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. They accuse the administration of repressing their right to protest and failing to address anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim harassment effectively.

Commencement Protests and Solidarity

The controversy reached a climax during Harvard’s commencement ceremonies, where over 1,000 students and faculty members staged a walkout in solidarity with the 13 barred graduates. Undergraduate speaker Shruthi Kumar’s impromptu support for the affected students during her address drew widespread applause and ignited the walkout.

Outside the ceremony, banners reading “Stop the Genocide in Gaza” and other pro-Palestine messages were displayed, while counterprotesters flew planes with slogans like “Jewish Lives Matter.US” and trucks displaying the names and faces of pro-Palestine students circled the campus.

Future Implications and Continuing Protests

The refusal to confer degrees to the protesting students has not only galvanized support within the Harvard community but also underscored the ongoing tension between academic institutions and student activism. The Harvard Corporation’s decision, despite faculty votes and widespread support for the students, highlights the complexities and challenges of balancing institutional policies with the principles of free speech and protest.

Read More: Harvard University criticized for not allowing pro-Palestine protestors from graduating

As the affected students await the results of their appeals, the broader movement for Palestinian solidarity on campus shows no signs of abating. The HOOP coalition and its supporters remain committed to their cause, vowing to continue their activism and pushing for institutional change.