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US: Security tightened for university graduation ceremonies amid Gaza protests

New York: Amid rising tensions in West Asia around the Israeli military offensive in Gaza, university commencement ceremonies across the US are facing unprecedented challenges as protests and counter-protests erupt on campuses from coast to coast, CNN reported, adding what should be a time of celebration and achievement for graduates has been overshadowed by a climate of heightened security and civil unrest.
In recent days, campuses have become battlegrounds for opposing ideologies, with clashes between pro-Palestinian demonstrators and their detractors turning increasingly volatile. From the University of Mississippi to the University of Virginia and the Art Institute of Chicago, scenes of confrontation have unfolded, leaving a trail of arrests, accusations, and calls for accountability.
At the University of Mississippi, an investigation has been launched into allegations of "hostility and racist overtones" stemming from a demonstration on campus. Pro-Palestinian protesters, numbering around 30, found themselves surrounded by an estimated 200 counter-protesters, some brandishing American flags and Trump banners, as reported by CNN.
Amid the tumult, disturbing incidents emerged, including reports of racial slurs and gestures directed at a Black woman documenting the scene on her phone. Despite the chaos, graduate student Jaylin R Smith remained resolute, stating, "One thing that will never break me is people taunting me or making monkey noises at me."
Meanwhile, at the University of Virginia, tensions reached a boiling point as law enforcement intervened to dismantle a pro-Palestinian encampment near the University Chapel. Despite initial attempts at peaceful resolution, authorities were met with resistance and escalating aggression, leading to the arrest of at least 25 individuals on charges of trespassing. The university cited "violent conduct" and breaches of campus regulations as justification for their actions, sparking debate over the limits of free expression and the use of force in maintaining order, according to CNN.
Similarly, in Chicago, the Art Institute became the site of a standoff between protesters and police, culminating in the arrest of approximately 50 individuals. What began as a peaceful demonstration by School of Art Institute students soon descended into chaos, with allegations of property damage and obstruction of emergency exits. Negotiations between protesters and authorities faltered, leading to a decisive intervention by law enforcement to disperse the crowd and restore order.
As universities grapple with the fallout from these incidents, questions loom large over the future of academic freedom and the role of institutions in addressing contentious political issues. Calls for divestment from Israel, amplified by student-led movements, have placed universities at the centre of a global debate over human rights and international conflict. Yet, the pursuit of social justice is increasingly met with resistance, as competing narratives collide and ideological fault lines deepen.
In response to these challenges, universities are ramping up security measures, and deploying additional personnel and resources to ensure the safety of students, faculty, and staff. Metal detectors, barricades, and heightened law enforcement presence have become commonplace features of graduation ceremonies, casting a shadow over what should be a joyous occasion, CNN reported.

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