Protesters abandon Pomona College encampment, disrupt LA commencement

Pomona College maintenance staff seen dismantling the pro-Palestinian encampment at Marston Quadrangle on May 12. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo |

Pomona Divest from Apartheid, a Palestine liberation collective made up of Claremont Colleges students, issued a news release on May 12 stating hundreds of activists from across Southern California planned to “converge at the USC Shrine Auditorium to call for divestment from Israel.”

Pomona College announced early May 10 it had moved its May 12 commencement ceremony to the Shrine Auditoriumin Los Angeles and closed it to the media following a tense week where student activists had set up an encampment on the traditional site of its commencement ceremonies, Marston Quadrangle.

According to a PDA statement, some graduates turned their backs while Pomona College President Gabrielle Starr delivered her commencement address. “Two Palestinian students who spoke at graduation also criticized the administration’s response to the genocide in Gaza, and one called for divestment in their speech,” read the statement.

Video posted on PDA’s Instagram account May 12 showed demonstrators confronting police and security personnel outside the Shrine, with both sides pushing one another. No injuries were reported.

The Los Angeles Times reported that about 30 graduates from Harvey Mudd College wore “Cut defense ties” on their mortarboards, with some also showcasing Palestinian flags during the conferring of degrees at the school’s May 12 ceremony in Claremont. Meanwhile, at Pitzer College’s May 11 commencement some graduates waved Palestinian flags and then handed them to President Strom C. Thacker as he conferred their degrees.

A Pomona College student was ejected from the May 12 Pomona commencement by campus safety officers.

The student, Marcello Ursic, told the Courier in an email that he was taking photos of padlocks placed on exit doors when he was confronted by Pomona Campus Safety Director Mike Hallinan and other officers. He alleged Hallinan “intimidated and questioned” him and commented on his keffiyeh while calling Ursic a “troublemaker” repeatedly. “Mike then said he was going to eject me from my own graduation, demanded to take a photo of my ID (I acquiesced), and photographed me without my consent. I was then ejected …” Ursic did not receive his diploma. “It should be mailed out very soon,” he wrote.

Mark Kendall, chief communications officer at Pomona College, commented on the school’s commencement security plan in an email: “Comprehensive safety plans were in place for the event,” Kendall wrote. “We deeply appreciate the patience of graduates and their families with the shift in location this year. We were glad to be able to honor close to 400 members of the Class of 2024 with their loved ones joining them for the well-attended ceremony.”

Patricia Vest, senior director of communications at Pomona College was asked prior to the commencement how the school’s security detail would approach the protest.

“Our students, faculty, staff and alumni hold a range of viewpoints,” Vest wrote in an email. “Our focus is on the safety of our community and fulfilling our educational mission. We are deeply grateful for our community’s patience in this situation and we look forward to honoring the Class of 2024 today with their loved ones. Safety plans are in place for today’s ticketed ceremony which will not be open to the public or media.”

A May 10 emailed statement from PDA read in part, “This demonstration targets Pomona College’s commencement ceremony, highlighting the institution’s refusal to meet student demands despite student and faculty votes in favor of divestment. By converging at USC, student organizers aim to amplify their demands and expose the interconnected nature of their struggles, linking the fight for Palestinian liberation to broader struggles for social justice and the dismantling of oppressive systems. Their message will be impossible to ignore: complicity in the oppression of Palestinians will not be tolerated, and the fight for justice will continue to escalate.”

Prior to the demonstration, PDA posted on Instagram that they had “decamped” from Marston Quad. Pomona College maintenance staff were seen dismantling the encampment May 12.

The May 12 PDA statement came a day after the Palestinian Youth Movement, “A transnational, independent, grassroots movement of Palestinian and Arab youth struggling for the liberation of our homeland,” posted on Instagraman invitation to protest at the Shrine.

“SO-CAL SHUT IT DOWN FOR PALESTINE,” the Instagram post read in part, which also stated, “No graduation as usual. Anywhere. Students across So-Cal are unified in their principled call for divestment and fight for Palestinian liberation.”

The demonstration was organized in collaboration with PDA, PYM, PYM Los Angeles-Orange County-Inland Empire, National Students for Justice in Palestine, SoCal Students for Justice in Palestine, SJP chapters at UCLA, USC, Occidental College, and Cal State LA, USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation and others.

Pomona announced the plan to move the graduation ceremony in a May 10 statement from Vest: “We are deeply grateful for our community’s patience in this extraordinary situation and we look forward to honoring our graduates on Sunday,” Vest wrote. “These changes were made to ensure they can graduate with their loved ones in attendance. Additional safety measures will be in place.”


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