Starting with Gaza, young generations can heal the world
May 7, 2024
Luca Mazzacane
(Pavia, Italy)

Reminiscent of student protests of South African apartheid, pro-Gaza protests are spreading from American campuses across oceans — from France to the United Kingdom and Australia, from Rome to Tokyo, Dublin and Beirut.

In the United States, after two weeks of clashes resulting in approximately 2,300 arrests, universities are licking their wounds as they prepare, amidst exceptional security measures, to host graduation ceremonies in the coming days. 

Meanwhile, on the tents of Palestinian refugees crowded in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, messages of gratitude for global mobilization have appeared: “Thank you, Columbia University students”, “Thank you, American university students”, reported by the Egyptian website Ahram. 

With some exceptions, calm seemed to prevail on American campuses yesterday. Not so in Paris, where in line with the "total firmness" stance taken  by the government of  Emmanuel Macron, the police evacuated Sciences Po yet again. There, some dozens of pro-Palestinian students, dissatisfied with the negotiations on the prestigious university's partnerships with Israeli institutions, had barricaded themselves for a "peaceful sit-in." The Sciences Po branch in Lyon was also cleared, while across the Channel, protests from London have spread to universities in Bristol, Newcastle, and Warwick. Tent cities have sprung up in Australia, in Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney. 

In the United States, albeit to a lesser extent than the dramatic events of May 1st at Columbia and UCLA, police interventions continued: around fifty students were arrested yesterday in Greenwich Village after refusing to evacuate the campuses of NYU and the New School (the latter being a historic university that, on the eve of World War II, welcomed intellectuals fleeing Nazism and fascism in Europe). Another 30 arrests were made at Portland State University in Oregon, where on Monday protesters barricaded themselves in a library. And at Princeton, a group of students began a hunger strike to demand that the Ivy League university withdraw investments from companies indirectly supporting Israel's military actions in Gaza: a scenario at least considered by other universities such as nearby Rutgers or Brown in Rhode Island, a concession that in recent hours has led to an amicable dismantling of their respective tent cities.

With classes finished or nearing the end, the next test will be graduation ceremonies. Solemn yet celebratory days for families of students who, having completed their studies, are stepping into the real world, this year's commencements will be heavily guarded events with police on campuses, metal detectors, and bans on bringing banners, flags or large bags. Last week, the University of Southern California in Los Angeles dramatically canceled the plenary session expected to host 65,000 relatives and friends of graduates. For students who started college in lockdown due to Covid (after missing the other major rite of passage for teenagers, the prom at the end of high school, for the same reason), the 2024 graduations will offer a new traumatic moment. 

The task of keynote speakers, the VIPs receiving honorary degrees who are tasked with offering graduating students a message of hope for the future, will also be complex. Many famous names are in the lineup, from comedian Jerry Seinfeld at Duke to Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak at the University of Colorado. The most prominent of all will be Joe Biden on May 19th at Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historic African-American school attended by Martin Luther King Jr., where faculty and students would like to roll out the red carpet for the guest of honor. After the university confirmed that Biden will speak, the faculty requested "a moment of direct engagement" from the White House before the president takes the podium. The intention is to avoid Gaza-conflict controversies overshadowing the true protagonists of the day: the graduates.


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