Some students walk out of University of Chicago graduation as 4 diplomas withheld over protests

Hundreds of students at the University of Chicago graduated with their diplomas in hand on Saturday, but that wasn't the case for four students who are involved in ongoing disciplinary proceedings stemming from a pro-Palestinian protest on campus.

Dozens of students protesting the war in Gaza walked out of commencement following the university’s decision to withhold diplomas from four fellow seniors who allegedly participated in a pro-Palestinian encampment. The disruption to the rainy two-hour outdoor ceremony was brief, with shouts, boos and calls to “Stop Genocide.” 

"The least I can do is stand out here and say enough is enough," said graduate Zero Abdelhamit. "UChicago give them their diplomas, let them graduate.”

The four students were still able to graduate on Saturday but weren't handed their diplomas. The university explained that the encampment led to multiple formal complaints alleging the students violated university policies, including engaging in disruptive conduct.

A university spokesperson said a disciplinary committee has a process to review formal complaints, and degrees can be withheld until cases are resolved. But students and faculty members who demonstrated on Saturday didn't settle for that response, arguing the university's move is a violation of free speech.

They rallied for not only the four students - but those in Gaza.

"Not only those students, but the millions of students across Gaza who have had education disrupted and destroyed," Abdelhamit said.

However, others on campus, including Valeria Frank, believe the rally and encampment were hateful toward the Jewish community.

"It feels so sad because I feel like this shows antisemitism," said Frank, who is Jewish. "I know they are fighting for a cause, but they hate us, and that’s the main problem.”

Yinam Cohen, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest, told NBC Chicago, "The University of Chicago was correct to take a stand against Jew hatred.”

As of Saturday, it remained unclear when the disciplinary team would come to a resolution.

One protester, who isn't affiliated with the university, was arrested during demonstrations on Saturday, a university spokesperson said. According to officials, demonstrators attempted to access a closed street and break through a barrier outside of the main ceremony at around 11 a.m., and a " small number of protesters acted violently."

The University of Chicago released the following statement to NBC Chicago on Saturday:

“The University of Chicago is proud to celebrate its 538th Convocation ceremony today, welcoming thousands of graduates and their families to campus. A group of students walked out early in the ceremony. The program concluded without further incident. The University is fundamentally committed to upholding the rights of students to express a wide range of views. 

“At approximately 11:00 a.m., in an incident outside of the main Convocation ceremony, demonstrators at a protest on E 59th Street and S University Ave. attempted to access a closed street and break through a barrier erected by the University. A small number of protesters acted violently; one protester, who is unaffiliated with the University, was arrested. Charges are being sought for battery. 

“Convocation ceremonies and activities in celebration of our graduates are continuing throughout the day.”

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