Harvard student speaker denounces university over Gaza protest response | US campus protests

A graduating Harvard University student went off script and upbraided Harvard over the university’s treatment of students protesting against what they say is a genocide being carried out by Israel in Gaza.

“As I stand here today, I must take a moment to recognize my peers – the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 that will not graduate today,” said student Shruthi Kumar, who was chosen to deliver the English commencement remarks for the undergraduate class.

Kumar’s thoughts were widely supported by other Harvard students. More than 1,000 students walked out of the ceremony as part of a staged protest, many waving Palestinian flags or banners calling for an end to genocide.

The unscripted remarks came as 13 pro-Palestine students were barred from graduating for their involvement in campus protests, the Harvard Crimson reported, even after a majority of the university’s faculty of arts and sciences voted for the students to have their degrees conferred.

The Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body, voted on Wednesday to halt the students’ graduation.

Kumar’s original speech was previously on The Power of Not Knowing, encouraging students to embrace uncertainty as they transition on from school, according to the Harvard Gazette.

But at Thursday’s morning ceremony, Kumar delivered off-script remarks that largely focused on Harvard’s punishment of protesting students and overall censorship.

“I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus,” she said. “The students had spoken. The faculty had spoken.”

Kumar added: “Harvard, do you hear us?” She received widespread applause and a standing ovation.

The headlining commencement speaker also addressed Harvard’s treatment of pro-Palestine student activists.

Maria Ressa, a Noble peace prize laureate and journalist, warned Harvard not to silence student protesters. “Harvard, you are being tested,” Ressa said.

“The campus protests are testing everyone in America. Protests give voice; they shouldn’t be silenced.”

The remarks from Kumar and Ressa underline the tensions at Harvard and other universities after the crackdowns on pro-Palestine student protesters.

A pro-Palestine student demonstration at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor was broken up by police. Police also cracked down on a demonstration at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. At least six student protesters were arrested there.

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