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HOOP Warns Harvard of Commencement Disruptions, Denounces Suspensions During Rally at Garber’s House

Harvard affiliates and local residents marched to the home of interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 to protest the College's suspension of five students over their participation in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment.
Harvard affiliates and local residents marched to the home of interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber '76 to protest the College's suspension of five students over their participation in the pro-Palestine Harvard Yard encampment. By Julian J. Giordano
By Azusa M. Lippit and Cam N. Srivastava, Crimson Staff Writers

Updated May 20, 2024, at 12:44 a.m.

Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine, the unrecognized pro-Palestine coalition of student groups that staged the Harvard Yard encampment, warned University administrators to prepare for disruptions to Thursday’s Commencement ceremonies during an emergency rally on Sunday.

The rally — which drew more than 200 Harvard students, affiliates, and local residents — came after the College suspended students over their involvement in a 20-day encampment in the Yard. Protesters decried the Harvard College Administrative Board’s decision to suspend five students, place more than 20 others on probation, and prevent 14 seniors from receiving their degrees during Commencement.

Protesters gathered outside of Johnston Gate, blocking traffic on Massachusetts Avenue for 20 minutes before marching down Brattle Street to the house of interim Harvard President Alan M. Garber ’76 for the second time this month.

Though no students whose degrees were withheld spoke at the rally, more than 10 seniors attended the rally with keffiyehs draped over their graduation robes.

Standing in the middle of Mass. Ave, Harvard Law School student Lea H. Kayali said the University should expect disruptions to its Commencement ceremonies.

“If Harvard wanted a peaceful Commencement, they should not have threatened us and our most vulnerable student organizers,” Kayali said.

More than 10 seniors attended the rally with keffiyehs draped over their graduation robes.
More than 10 seniors attended the rally with keffiyehs draped over their graduation robes. By Julian J. Giordano

In a Saturday Instagram post publicizing the rally, HOOP wrote that the rally was intended to “send Harvard a message: commencement will not proceed as normal while Harvard penalizes the students that speak against genocide.”

On the street outside Garber’s house, demonstrators drew chalk messages in support of Palestine, writing “Harvard has blood on its hands” and “How do you sleep at night?”

At the beginning of the protest, organizers asked attendees to affix flyers with names and pictures of Palestinians and the words “Martyred by the IOF” to the outside of Johnston Gate. The term “IOF,” standing for Israeli Occupation Forces, is often used by pro-Palestine protesters to refer to the Israeli Defense Forces.

Protesters continually called attention to both the Ad Board’s disciplinary action and the ongoing war in Gaza.

“You suspend five students, you discipline over 35 students. They’re making it so that 14 seniors can’t graduate. And on top of all that, Palestine is going through a genocide,” said Kojo Acheampong ’26, an organizer with the African and African American Resistance Organization.

Harvard Divinity School student Rameen A. Javadian read aloud an op-ed written by a graduating senior whose degree will be withheld for one year. The student wrote that they wished to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from the Ad Board, which asks students to keep details of their disciplinary processes confidential.

“My family, who have made innumerable sacrifices to see me in the place that I am today, will not be able to hang a college diploma on our living room wall,” the student wrote in the op-ed. “I am leaving Harvard infuriated, exhausted, and disgusted.”

Protesters affix flyers bearing the names of Palestinians killed in the Israel-Hamas war to Johnston gate.
Protesters affix flyers bearing the names of Palestinians killed in the Israel-Hamas war to Johnston gate. By Julian J. Giordano

Acheampong said in a speech outside of Garber’s house that pro-Palestine organizers had upheld their end of the bargain with the University by peacefully ending the encampment and implied the Ad Board’s decision to prevent students from graduating was at odds with Garber’s negotiations with students.

“We know how to keep up our end of the bargain, Garber. We know how to do that. We know how to maintain a deal. What happened?” Acheampong said.

In response to a request for comment on the rally, a University spokesperson referred The Crimson to Garber’s email to students participating in the encampment, in which he offered protesters a meeting about divestment with the University’s governing boards and agreed to expedite the Administrative Board cases.

“It does not speak to the outcome of disciplinary processes, rather it indicates he would encourage disciplinary bodies to move their processes forward expeditiously, in line with their existing precedents and practices,” University spokesperson Jason A. Newton wrote of the email in a May 18 statement to The Crimson.

As part of the agreement to end the encampment, Garber said he would ask the leaders of Harvard’s schools to begin the reinstatement process for 22 students placed on involuntary leave for their participation in the encampment.

But while Garber did not explicitly promise clemency for students facing separate Ad Board proceedings if the demonstration was disbanded peacefully, protesters seemed to understand it as such.

While Acheampong seemed to implicate Garber in the College’s decision to punish students, the Ad Board’s disciplinary committee is composed of faculty and administrators — including resident deans — and chaired by Dean of Harvard College Rakesh Khurana. Garber is one of two ex-officio members of the board.

Acheampong added that while the encampment was “successful,” it was merely one way pro-Palestine organizers plan to spur Harvard into meeting pro-Palestine student demands.

“This encampment was literally just a tactic — a successful tactic — but we have a whole arsenal of cards to lay down,” Acheampong said.

Nikhil Dharmaraj ’23 said pro-Palestine alumni have pledged to stop donating to the University “until disclosure, divestment, amnesty, and the reinstatement of the PSC,” referring to the Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student organization which was suspended last month.

Dharmaraj also called on various levels of Harvard administrators to override the Ad Board’s punishments levied against students and “allow students to graduate.”

The rally also featured speeches from Leyla Abarca, a student at Somerville High School, Molly Brooks, a history teacher at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, and an unnamed organizer with BDS Boston.

Chalk messages drawn by demonstrators on the street outside Garber's house read "Harvard has blood on its hands," "Let Gaza live," and "Fuck HUPD."
Chalk messages drawn by demonstrators on the street outside Garber's house read "Harvard has blood on its hands," "Let Gaza live," and "Fuck HUPD." By Julian J. Giordano

Organizers introduced two new chants during the rally — “intifada, intifada coming to America” and “Harvard fuck your funding, a new world is coming.”

The Arabic term “intifada,” which has been frequently chanted at pro-Palestine protests since the fall, has been a major source of contention between protesters and pro-Israel affiliates on campus.

Many Jews consider the term to be antisemitic and tantamount to a call to violence against Jews and Israelis. Protesters who use the chant emphasize its translation as “uprising” or “shaking off” and its use to describe other historical resistance movements, not limited to those in Palestine.

Tala A. Alfoqaha, a Palestinian third-year Harvard Law School student, said reactions to “intifada” and the phrase “from the river to the sea” represent the “Palestine exception to free speech.”

“There’s a reason that Harvard presidents cower at the liberatory slogan ‘from the river to the sea,’” Alfoqaha said in a speech. “There’s a reason Congress has spent more time manufacturing outrage over the very word ‘intifada’ than doing anything to stop the billions of dollars that is funneling into death, rather than investing into life.”

On Saturday, Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine publicized a petition on Instagram asking for peers to be allowed to graduate and urging Harvard’s administration to overturn the Ad Board’s rulings against students.

The petition received more than 1,100 signatures from undergraduates in 24 hours, according to a Sunday afternoon Instagram post by Harvard Out of Occupied Palestine.

Since the Ad Board’s decision on Friday, more than a dozen officially recognized student organizations have put out similar statements expressing disappointment with the College’s decision to punish students for their involvement with the encampment.

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at azusa.lippit@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

—Staff writer Cam N. Srivastava can be reached at cam.srivastava@thecrimson.com. Follow him on X @camsrivastava.

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College AdministrationCommencementUniversityAd BoardProtestsFront FeatureUniversity NewsAlan GarberFeatured ArticlesIsrael PalestineFront Bottom Feature

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