Hundreds walk out of Harvard College graduation; UCLA contends with new protest

LOS ANGELES — The end of encampments at some American college campuses this spring was not the end of pro-Palestinian protests at Harvard and UCLA.

Hundredswho attended annual graduation Thursday at Harvard College, Harvard University’s undergraduate college, staged a walkout to decry its disqualification of 13 students involved in earlier protests.

At UCLA on Thursday, administrators and Los Angeles police faced the return of pro-Palestinian protesters to the heart of campus.

On Wednesday, Harvard said one of its two governing boards overruled faculty members who had voted to re-invite 13 student protesters omitted from commencement.

The omission set off some of those invited to commencement, and a walkout was staged shortly before 11 a.m. Thursday, with some participants chanting "Let them walk" and other slogans for about 10 minutes, according to video from the event.

Interim President Alan M. Garber spoke at commencement and was prepared for the action.

"As our ceremony proceeds, some among us may choose to take the liberty of expressing themselves to draw attention to events unfolding in the wider world," he said, according to Harvard Public Affairs and Communications. "It is their right to do so."

Garber observed a moment of silence in the name of "sympathy and empathy."

Some protesters were unhappy because they were under the impression Harvard would allow participants to graduate under an agreement between Garber and the Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine Coalition, NBC Boston reported.

A Harvard spokesperson later said “several hundred” people participated in the walkout.

Image: Graduating Harvard students walk out in protest over the 13 students who have been barred from graduating

Graduating students hold Palestinian flags and chant Thursday as they walk out of commencement ceremonies at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass., over 13 students who have been barred from graduating because of protest activities.Ben Curtis / AP

Protesters at colleges across the U.S. and in other countries set up encampments this spring to decry civilian deaths and displacement in Gaza during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and to call for schools to divest from financial support of Israel. Harvard's encampment was dismantled voluntarily. The university said it would meet with protesters to discuss disclosure and divestment.

In its statement Wednesday, Harvard said it planned to confer 1,539 degrees to Harvard College students. The school said it would fast-track degrees for the 13 excluded Thursday if they mount successful appeals.

“We understand that the inability to graduate is consequential for students and their families,” it said.

In addition to the 13, five other students were suspended and more than 20 face probation, according to NBC Boston.

Harvard student Margaret Mano said the exclusion clouded what should be a joyous occasion. “It is bittersweet. People in my house, my friends, they can’t graduate with me,” she told NBC Boston.

Image: Pro-Palestinian protesters along the campus of UCLA

Pro-Palestinian protesters carry signs and march along the campus of UCLA on Thursday.Damian Dovarganes / AP

On the West Coast on Thursday, Los Angeles police were placed on high readiness — a citywide tactical alert that authorizes overtime so the force on duty is at full strength — after protesters returned to the heart of the UCLA campus in the city's Westwood community.

Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered at Kerckhoff Patio before dozens heeded a protester's megaphone-amplified call for a "takeover" of nearby Dodd Hall.

Police in riot gear staged nearby. A police cruiser’s tire appeared to have been slashed.

By midafternoon, a Palestinian flag extended from an upstairs window at Dodd Hall. Downstairs, it appeared students were able to leave the building, but multiple news outlets, including NBC News, were not invited inside.

palestinian flag campus usa ucla

Students walk past a Palestinian flag displayed from a window of Dodd Hall on the UCLA campus Thursday.Morgan Chesky / NBC News

Scrawled on the outside of the academic building were the words “Intifada Hall," using the Arabic word meaning "uprising."

A UCLA statement attributed to two of its top leaders said the university will not tolerate an encampment this time.

“Demonstrators have been informed that if they do not disperse, they will face arrest and possible disciplinary action, as well as an order to stay away from campus for 7 days,” it said.

On April 30, a mob attacked pro-Palestinian protesters at UCLA for a few hours before police intervened. Authorities broke up the weeklong encampment and arrested more than 200 people two days later.

Inaction by campus and Los Angeles police during the first hours of the April 30 clash was the subject of multiple investigations, and UCLA's chief of police, John Thomas, has been reassigned pending the outcome of a campus inquiry.

Chancellor Gene Block, one of three university leaders who spoke about the campus uprisings to the House Education and Workforce Committee on Thursday, said he regretted having waited days to dislodge April’s encampment.

“We should have been prepared to immediately remove the encampment,” Block said.

Asked about Thursday’s protest, he said, “There is no encampment, and we have no demonstrations that are problematic.”

Morgan Chesky

Morgan Chesky is a correspondent for NBC News.

hundreds walk out of harvard college graduation; ucla contends with new protest
Dennis Romero

Dennis Romero is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.

Antonia Hylton, Brittany Kubicko, Madison Lambert and Erick Mendoza contributed.

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