May 3, 2024 - News

Campuses are on edge — just in time for graduation

Police watch a  protest

Campus police watched over student demonstrators at Northeastern. Photo: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Boston area colleges are bracing for a month of commencement and graduation events while student unrest is near a boiling point on some campuses over the war in Gaza.

Why it matters: A little over a week after the pro-Palestinian student encampment at Northeastern University was cleared by police and nearly 100 demonstrators were arrested, the Northeastern community will gather at Fenway Park for their annual commencement ceremony.

  • Tensions between students and the college's administration are at a fever pitch.

What they're saying: "Things obviously aren't back to normal," civil engineering major Colin Sutherland, who graduates Sunday, told the student paper the Huntington News.

Northeastern University spokesperson Renata Nyul wouldn't say if the school will put restrictions on students' or guests' speeches or ability to express political stances on their mortarboards or graduation regalia, a popular tradition at NEU and other schools.

  • Nyul told Axios in a statement there will be "enhanced student affairs and public safety staffing" at Fenway on Sunday, but would not answer questions about limitations on students' speech.
  • National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan is scheduled to speak at NEU's Fenway ceremony Sunday.

What we're watching: Civil liberties expert Harvey Silverglate told Axios that students who demonstrate at graduation should be constitutionally protected.

  • "The constitution gives us the right to aggravate our fellow citizens and gives the right to aggravate the leaders of our institutions, and our own government," Silverglate said.

The big picture: President Biden defended students' right to protest peacefully Thursday, but condemned aggressive actions on campuses nationwide as students rally against the Israel-Hamas war.

What's next: Emerson College, which had its own student encampment raided by police last week, will hold commencement May 12.

  • Boston University and Tufts University's events are the following Sunday. Harvard's commencement is May 23.

MIT will hold its commencement ceremony May 29.

  • School spokesperson Sarah McDonnell told Axios MIT police and local first responders "will engage in wide-ranging scenario planning ahead of this year's Commencement ceremony" to prepare for situations that could impact the event.
  • McDonnell said in an email MIT does not publicly discuss the specifics of internal safety plans.

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