May 5, 2024

IU protesters hold alternative graduation as pro-Palestinian encampment continues

Indiana University professor Abdulkader Sinno speaks in Dunn Meadow Saturday, May 5, 2024 during what was billed as an alternative commencement for graduating students.  -  Devan Ridgway / WTIU

Indiana University professor Abdulkader Sinno speaks in Dunn Meadow Saturday, May 5, 2024 during what was billed as an alternative commencement for graduating students.

Devan Ridgway / WTIU

BLOOMINGTON — Hours before Indiana University’s Saturday undergraduate ceremony at Memorial Stadium, protesters hosted an alternate graduation ceremony in Dunn Meadow.

Four members of the faculty and a graduating senior spoke at the event in the middle of the encampment, which now features around two dozen tents.

Professor Abdulkader Sinno, who was suspended by the university in January and has been deeply involved in the protest, praised the student protesters.

“You taught us lessons in empathy and caring,” Sinno told the crowd. “You show us empathy because you care about everyone who's a victim, regardless of what people they belong and that makes you great.”

He said what they’re doing with their voices are creating a legacy for future IU students.

“You are their teachers, for generations to come,” Sinno said. “Just like those before you who stood against the war in Vietnam and those who stood against apartheid in South Africa, you are part of a proud tradition – an amazing tradition of people who think for themselves, no matter what those in power tells them, who know what's right from their heart.”

Germanic studies professor Ben Robinson, who was one of more than 30 people arrested during the first day of the protests 10 days ago, praised Sinno for being on the frontline of the protests.

He then turned his remarks to Israel’s attacks on “schools, universities, teachers and students” in Gaza, calling it an assault on the culture of Palestinians.

“More than 5,479 students, 261 teachers and 95 university professors have been killed,” Robinson said. “And 625,000 students have been deprived of access to education. Heritage sites and archives have been destroyed by bombs.”

He praised the students gathered for not ignoring the outside world while working on finishing their college careers.

“We know there's a justice that comes from education and an education that comes from the fight for justice,” Robinson said. “So, when I stand here and look at you, I can say with utter pride, that as hard to say work as a teacher, heck, you are teaching us all one lesson about the true power of education.”

Barbara Dennis, a professor in IU’s school of education, said not to forget that “education was liberation.”

“Let's carry the encampment forward with us friends,” she said. “This education is ours. It cannot be stolen. We don't become activists, we just refuse to forget that we always already are.”

The ceremony concluded with faculty and students lining up in procession, saying their names and dipping their hands in green, red and black paint, and pressing them against a white sheet.

One graduating senior who identified herself as Serena and a folklore major took part in the ceremony in Dunn Meadow. She said the fact that universities in Gaza had been destroyed and faculty and students killed was on her mind.

“It's not just pure celebration today at all,” she said. “Especially, because I don't necessarily want to be celebrating Indiana University right now, as long as they are investing in Crane. And as long as they're abusing their students and faculty.”

Serena said she planned to walk out of ceremony when IU president Pamela Whitten begins speaking.

“Definitely,” she said. “I think it’s important.”

Several cries of “Resign!” were heard during Whitten's speech at the graduate student graduation ceremony Friday afternoon at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall.

Following the ceremony at Dunn Meadow, protesters marched to Sample Gates, where several families were taking graduation photos in front of the IU landmark. Chanting phrases such as “Free, free Palestine” and “One, two, three, four, occupation no more,” they circled back through campus and returned to Dunn Meadow to prepare for assembling outside the football stadium tonight.

The protesters continue to demand the university cut ties with Israel and the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division in response to the ongoing war in Gaza.

This is the 10th day of the encampment in Dunn Meadow. After clashes with state and IU police led to 57 arrests during the first three days of the protest, the encampment has been left alone by law enforcement.

WFIU reporter Ethan Sandweiss contributed to this story.

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