Pro-Palestinian protesters clash with University of Chicago police near graduation in Hyde Park

One woman says she was pepper sprayed in the face.

Saturday, June 1, 2024
Pro-Palestinian protesters clash with U of C police near graduation
At the UChicago convocation 2024, some graduating students disrupted the ceremony to protest the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Saturday's commencement at the University of Chicago was anything but usual.

Along with the awarding of degrees and congratulations, there was a pro-Palestinian protest and allegations that demonstrators were pepper sprayed.

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There were gestures of defiance by students protesting the war in Gaza at Saturday morning's UChicago convocation.

"It's hard for people to be celebrating, even though on what is a joyful day, when there's atrocities happening across the world," said Abei Shemsu, who attended the graduation.

Others and their supporters took to the streets in protest as the school withheld the diplomas of at least four seniors over their involvement with a pro-Palestinian encampment. The encampment at the school was cleared on May 7.

"We will continue to fight until the university divests, discloses, and repairs," said Youssef Hasweh, whose degree was withheld.

SEE ALSO |16 alderpersons call on UChicago to reconsider withholding diplomas for 4 sanctioned students

Hundreds joined the chorus of students demanding their universities and colleges stop doing business with Israel or companies they say support its war in Gaza.

"Graduation is supposed to be fun, without complaining about the war," said Claudia Mandujano, the mother of a graduating senior.

The disruption to the rainy hours-long outdoor ceremony was brief. Some students waved Palestinian flags while others wore traditional black-and-white checkered scarves over their robes as a show of solidarity.

But during a separate rally and march, some pro-Palestinian demonstrators clashed with university police.

One woman says she was pepper sprayed in the face.

"UCPD grabbed by arm, was pulling me into line and as he was pulling me in. He was yelling, 'Get out! Get out! Get out!' And then, someone pepper sprayed me," Elise Knaub said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the university confirmed an interaction between police and a protester, writing in part, "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."

The university made no other statements about the protest.

The withheld degrees may be awarded after formal disciplinary cases have been resolved.