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Home / News / Politics / Protest causes Pomona College to change commencement plan

Protest causes Pomona College to change commencement plan

by Joe Taglieri
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With a pro-Palestine encampment still occupying the Pomona College campus, the school has relocated its graduation ceremony.

The main commencement event was initially scheduled for Sunday at the campus in Claremont, but now it will take place 6 p.m. Sunday at the Shrine Auditorium near downtown Los Angeles.

Graduation ceremonies for individual college departments were scheduled throughout Saturday at various places at Pomona College. Also on Saturday food trucks will be on campus from 4 to 7 p.m., at 8 p.m. a Glee Club concert and reception was planned at the Bridges Hall of Music and also at 8 p.m., a Senior Art Exhibit will take place in the Chan Gallery at the Studio Art Hall.

“We are deeply grateful for your patience in this extraordinary situation and we look forward to honoring our graduates on Sunday,” school officials said in an announcement of the venue change. “We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience of these changes made to ensure that the Class of 2024 can graduate with their loved ones in attendance. Additional safety measures will be in place and transportation to the venue will be provided for graduates.”

Since early Monday, dozens of protesters calling for the college to divest from companies tied to Israel have encamped on and around the stage designated for this weekend’s commencement ceremony.

According to published reports, on Thursday large banners reading “The people’s campus for Palestine” and the Palestinian flag were seen still hanging from the commencement stage. Protesters said they would maintain their encampment and stymie graduation events unless the college divests from Israeli-tied companies and weapons manufacturers.

“Students are prepared to defend the encampment until their demands are met, and call upon the college to heed the overwhelming support for divestment in their community,” according to a statement from Pomona Divest from Apartheid, a group organizing the protest.

In a statement Monday after protesters established their encampment, Pomona College officials said, “Our students, faculty, staff and alumni hold a range of viewpoints. Throughout the year, college leaders have offered to meet with student protesters and will continue to do so. We will promote safety for all members of our community and pursue our educational mission, considering the full range of viewpoints.”

Protest organizers were preparing for a possible attempt by law enforcement to break up the encampment, similar to the recent crackdowns of the protests at USC and UCLA. On Instagram Pomona Divest from Apartheid requested donations of zip ties, cable ties, pallets, chicken wire, plywood, fencing, bright flashlights, lanterns, batteries, ice and water.

The organizers also said they have refused to meet with college officials about their demands until they agree to “preconditions,” including disclosure of the college’s direct investments and full amnesty for negotiators and other protesters, City News Service reported.

On April 5, 19 students were arrested for a sit-in at the university president’s office.

In a statement following the sit-in, Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr said some demonstrators on the campus had refused to identify themselves and “proceeded to verbally harass staff, even using a sickening, anti-Black racial slur in addressing an administrator.”

Starr said that while the April occupation violated school policies, “as we have expressed in the past, we work with students who are exercising their right to protest unless that protest impedes on the rights of others. In addition, we require all individuals on campus to identify themselves upon request by campus administrators or Campus Safety. This is imperative for the safety of our community, especially when these individuals are masked.”

When they announced the protest encampment’s return on Monday, Pomona Divest from Apartheid urged Starr not to engage in what they called “unrelenting repression.”

“In April, Starr called in 30+ riot police to arrest 20 students, 19 of whom were staging a sit-in at Alexander Hall to protest the college’s forceful removal of a mock apartheid wall from Marston Quad,” according to the group. “Students are urging the college not to repeat their mistakes. Gabi Starr, do not opt for violence again. Listen to your community. The choice is yours.”

On May 2, 64% of the Pomona College faculty voted in favor of divesting “from corporations complicit with war crimes and other human rights violations committed by the Israeli government in Israel/Palestine,” The Student Life reported.

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