College protests live updates: USC cancels main graduation ceremony – USA TODAY

Editor’s Note: This page is a summary of news on the college campus protests over the Israel-Hamas war for Thursday, April 25. For the latest news on the protests view our live updates file for Friday, April 26.
NEW YORK − Protesters at Columbia University, an epicenter of growing student dissent against the war in Gaza, faced a deadline Thursday to dismantle their encampment as protests and arrests intensified across the nation.
Columbia President Minouche Shafik warned students that if the tents aren’t moved by Friday, “we will have to consider options for restoring calm to campus.”
In an update late Thursday, the university said talks between student protestors and the school have “shown progress and are continuing.” The school, the scene of more than 100 arrests in recent days, also shut down rumors that the New York City Police Department was invited to the campus on Thursday night.
House Speaker Mike Johnson lashed out Thursday at Columbia protesters, who booed him during his visit to the school a day earlier. Johnson had criticized students and faculty who participated in the protest and called for Shafik’s resignation.
“Hamas backed these protests at Columbia,” Johnson said in a social media post. “The things that have happened at the hands of Hamas are horrific, and yet these protestors are out there waving flags for the very people who committed those crimes. This is not who we are in America.”
Demonstrators across the nation are protesting the civilian toll in Gaza, where more than 34,000 people have died since the Israeli invasion that followed a Hamas-led attack that killed almost 1,200 people in Israel. Students oppose U.S. military aid to Israel and want their schools to stop investing endowment money in companies with Israeli links.
Meanwhile, amid the turmoil, the University of Southern California said it was canceling its main commencement ceremony, citing safety concerns.
Columbia says encampments will shrink:Scores of protesters arrested at USC
∎ Protesters were shoved with riot shields and handcuffed with zip ties by state police at Indiana University on Thursday after being told by officers to take down tents that had been set up for a Gaza solidarity encampment. Officers detained 33 people after they refused to take down the tents and disperse, according to an Indiana University Police statement released Thursday night.
∎ In Columbus, Ohio, hundreds of Ohio State University students, faculty and members of the local Arab community rallied Thursday and set up tents outside the student union. Shortly before 11 p.m. local time, protestors were starting to leave the area after nearly six hours of chants, prayers and construction of tents. Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA TODAY Network, reporters at the scene witnessed police arresting more than a dozen people.
∎ At UCLA, Students for Justice in Palestine set up an encampment Thursday on Royce Quad. “We are not leaving until our demands are met,” the group said in an Instagram post. Also in Los Angeles, the University of Southern California declared its campus closed and asked the L.A. Police Department to clear a demonstration after it arrested 94 people linked to a protest Wednesday.
∎ Two graduate students at Princeton University were arrested for trespassing and tents were taken down Thursday after scores of students attended a rally, the university said. At another Ivy League school, Cornell, students set up a pre-dawn encampment demanding the university divest from companies with links to the war in Gaza and end its relationship with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
∎ About 70 students from Washington, D.C.-area universities, including Georgetown and the George Washington, formed an encampment of 25 tents on GW’s campus early Thursday morning. They are protesting their schools’ investment of funds in companies doing business with Israel, the Georgetown Voice reported.
∎ In Boston, Emerson College President Jay Bernhardt canceled classes Thursday “as we respond to, and process, the events of last night.” Police spokesperson Michael Torigian said 108 arrests were made and four officers injured late Wednesday when police took down an encampment. Emerson Students for Justice in Palestine was encouraging protesters to rally at police precincts across the city. 
From Harvard to UT Austin to USC, college protests over Gaza are spreading. See our map.
A pro-Palestinian advocacy group filed a federal civil rights complaint against Columbia University in response to last week’s mass arrest of protesters after the university called police to clear encampments, the group said Thursday.
Palestine Legal urged the U.S. Education Department to investigate the university’s actions, which the group alleged as “discriminatory treatment of Palestinian students and their allies.” The organization said they’re representing four students and Students for Justice in Palestine, a student group that the university suspended.
Ten days after revoking the valedictorian’s speech, the University of Southern California went a step further Thursday and canceled its main graduation ceremony amid the series of pro-Palestinian protests roiling college campuses, including USC’s own.
As it did when announcing April 15 that biomedical engineering student Asna Tabassum would no longer deliver her address at commencement, the school said security challenges prompted the decision. Tabassum, who is Muslim, had drawn strong backlash the school said had “an alarming tenor” after espousing pro-Palestinian views on social media.
“With the new safety measures in place this year, the time needed to process the large number of guests coming to campus will increase substantially,” USC said in Thursday’s announcement. “As a result, we will not be able to host the main stage ceremony that traditionally brings 65,000 students, families, and friends to our campus all at the same time and during a short window.”
The university said the usual individual-school ceremonies, where students have their names called, walk across the stage and pick up their diplomas, will still be held, along with other graduation events.
Two weeks ahead of the May 8-11 commencement, the university was rocked Wednesday by antiwar demonstrations that led officials to call in the Los Angeles Police Department and close campus. It remained shut Thursday.
Columbia administrators said Thursday evening they remain in contact with New York City police amid a planned extremist protest just outside campus gates, happening with just hours left in the university’s two-day timeframe for negotiating with organizers of the student encampment.
The university remained committed to removing the encampment, spokesperson Ben Chang said in a press briefing, noting, “We have our demands, they have theirs.” Columbia did not clarify its timeframe for clearing out the tents, but said it remains in “constant contact” with the NYPD.
Ben Chang said in a press briefing that Mayor Eric Adams earlier convened a meeting of university presidents, including Shafik, about the ongoing campus demonstrations. A campus alert encouraged people to avoid streets just outside of the grounds, where far-right Christian activists planned to gather to support Israel while pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel demonstrators rallied in front of a heavy police presence.
Students have said the negotiating period was stopped as a result of what they described as threats from the university to send in the National Guard and NYPD. Negotiations resumed as of 10 a.m. Thursday, said organizer Sueda Polat, a graduate student.“We believe we are making progress, and the rest is yet to be seen,” she said. Polat declined to say when the 48-hour window ends, but said the timeline is being negotiated. “If there is involvement of police or National Guard − or the threat of involvement of police or National Guard − that is clearly a violation of good-faith negotiations, and negotiations would not proceed,” she said. “It’s why they stopped in the first place.”
Chang said there’s no reason to believe Columbia would call for the National Guard.
At Emory University in Atlanta, The Emory Wheel reported officers from the Emory Police Department, Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Patrol “began using gas and arresting protesters” Thursday morning, a few hours after protesters set up tents in the school’s Quadrangle. University President Gregory Fenves said most of the protesters were not associated with the university. Videos from the scene showed chaos as police arrived and students began running. One person appeared to be held down by three officers.
The Council on American–Islamic Relations in Georgia condemned the use of force at Emory.
“Protesters shared a day of cultural learning and community despite which Emory deployed excessive use of force, tear gas, and rubber bullets,” CAIR said in a social media post.
Columbia’s board of trustees threw its weight behind Shafik on Thursday ahead of the threat of a censure vote. The board said in a statement it “strongly supports” Shafik, the former president of the London School of Economics who, in her first year on the job, is steering Columbia through its most tumultuous school year since the Vietnam War era. 
“During the search process for this role, President Shafik told us that she would always take a thoughtful approach to resolving conflict, balancing the disparate voices that make up a vibrant campus like Columbia’s, while taking a firm stance against hatred, harassment and discrimination,” the board wrote in the public announcement. “That’s exactly what she’s doing now.”
The support came amid expectations the university senate, Columbia’s main governing body, may vote Friday on a resolution to formally censure Shafik over her decision to call the New York City Police Department to the Manhattan campus last week. The move must be sponsored by a committee, which hasn’t happened yet, decreasing the likelihood it will come up for a vote. 
The resolution, obtained by USA TODAY, accuses Shafik of a “violation of the fundamental requirements of academic freedom and shared governance” and an “unprecedented assault on students’ rights.”
The motion deliberately does not call for her resignation, though. Some faculty leaders think Shafik’s departure would hand a win to politicians that have, in their view, improperly interfered in campus affairs, as expressed by the American Association of University Professors.
− Zachary Schermele
Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential candidate, spent 45 minutes Thursday speaking and taking photos with students at the encampment in Columbia’s West Lawn. U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, whose daughter attends the all-women’s Barnard College − affiliated with Columbia − also visited.
In a brief interview with USA TODAY, Stein said, “We are seeing courageous young people with a clear vision standing up to say these are our First Amendment rights.
“These are absolutely essential, that we have a right to debate and to discuss these critical actions that are taking place right now,” Stein added. “We have a right to oppose them.”
Cornel West, another third-party candidate and a philosopher, visited a week ago after the university called New York City police, who arrested more than 100 students in a smaller encampment nearby. He also spoke to students occupying the West Lawn, where the current encampment now stands. Students have since formed a gathering space on the grass with rows of tents, along with food distribution, first aid and clothing. 
At the University of Texas in Austin, the Palestine Solidarity Committee posted a call to “Stand with the Arrested, Stand with Gaza,” urging professors and students to join a rally Thursday. On Wednesday, state troopers in riot gear and police on horseback broke up a protest at the school, and 57 people were booked into the Travis County Jail in connection to the protest, Travis County sheriff’s office spokesperson Kristen Dark said.
Pavithra Vasudevan, a professor at UT, said students had planned an educational event about Palestinians for the afternoon and had asked faculty members to lead workshops. Vasudevan said he was present when police began arresting protesters.
“The president and university administration chose to militarize our campus in response … to students gathering to express themselves,” Vasudevan said.
All 57 people have had their charges disposed of, Dark said, but it was unclear how many people had been released from the jail as of Thursday morning.
University of Texas President Jay Hartzell told a state lawmaker that he and other officials sought help from state law enforcement for the protest Wednesday because “our police force couldn’t do it alone,” according to text messages obtained by the American-Statesman, part of the USA TODAY Network.
Hours after state troopers marched to the University of Texas campus to disperse the crowd, Texas state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt sent a message to Hartzell and University of Texas System Chancellor J.B. Milliken questioning the law enforcement response.
“It appears the state is treating UT Austin differently than other campuses,” Eckhardt wrote at 6:07 p.m. Wednesday, according to the message, obtained under the Texas Public Information Act. “I’ve not seen reports of DPS in tactical gear sent to other campuses. Did UT Austin ask for this heightened presence?”
At Michigan State University, a student coalition set up a Gaza solidarity encampment, asking for the school to divest from Israeli firms and weapons manufacturers. Students from the coalition have attended every Board of Trustees meeting since October pressing for the change in investments.
MSU President Kevin Guskiewicz told the State Journal, part of the USA TODAY network, that he respected student rights to protest but was concerned about safety. He said he would follow local ordinances in deciding whether to take action.
“I don’t want to be known as a place that has shut down free speech, or one’s ability to express themselves,” he said. “College campuses have been the epicenter for activism and protests for decades.”
Sarah Atwood, Lansing State Journal
Brandeis University, a Massachusetts school founded by the American Jewish community to counter antisemitism 76 years ago, is extending it’s transfer application period to May 31 because of the “current climate” at other schools. School President Ron Liebowitz issued a statement Tuesday saying it is “unacceptable” that protests on some campuses have resulted in Jewish students being attacked physically and verbally because they are Jewish or support Israel, he said.
He said the school welcomes “Jews and students from every background” who are looking for an educational environment striving to be free of “Jew-hatred.”
“Brandeis has been committed to protecting the safety of all its students,” Liebowitz said. “In the current atmosphere, we are proud of the supports we have in place to allow Jewish students to thrive.”
Hamas, Iran applaud US protests:Militant groups offer public support
A senior Hamas official and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly applauded the growing number of protests against the war in Gaza and encampments that have sprung up on college campuses from California to Massachusetts and have become a flashpoint in the U.S.
Izzat Al-Risheq, a member of the militant group’s Political Bureau, said Wednesday that President Joe Biden’s administration is violating the rights of students and faculty members and arresting them “because of their rejection of the genocide of Palestinian people” in Gaza.
Khamenei issued a statement on social media celebrating the flying of Hezbollah’s flag in the streets of the U.S. “The people of the world are supporting the Resistance Front because they are resisting & because they are against oppression,” the post read.
Romina Ruiz-Goiriena
The protesters opposed to Israel’s military attacks in Gaza say they want their schools to stop funneling endowment money to Israeli companies and other businesses, like weapons manufacturers, that profit from the war in Gaza. It is not easy to define what an “investment” in Israel entails, said economist Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute who studies college finances. She said bigger investments are more obvious than smaller ones tucked away in mutual funds.
Columbia University, a focal point for the protests, has one of the largest school endowments in the nation at more than $13 billion.
“Why is our money being used to fund bombs overseas?” said Layla Saliba, a student protester researching endowment investments with the group Columbia University Apartheid Divestment. “Let’s reinvest this money in our community instead.”
Claire Thornton
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY; Lily Kepner, Tony Plohetski and Bayliss Wagner, Austin American-Statesman; Shahid Meighan and Cole Behrens, Columbus Dispatch; Brian Rosenzweig, The Herald-Times; Reuters


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