Pro-Palestinian Activism Marks CUNY Law Graduation Despite Speaker Ban

In some ways, a walkout by pro-Palestinian students at the City University of New York School of Law’s commencement on Thursday was part of the unique political moment that has marked the Class of 2024’s graduation season at so many universities.

But CUNY law students were also carrying on something of a graduation tradition at their school.

Students chanted pro-Palestinian messages, waved painted banners as they walked across the stage and turned their backs to the law school’s dean, Sudha Setty, during her remarks onstage at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Then, after the last degrees had been conferred, dozens of students rose from their seats and walked out, joined by a handful of professors and guests.

“It reminded me so much of why I came to CUNY Law,” Ale Humano, one of the graduates who walked out of the ceremony, said.

The walkout on Thursday is not the first time that tensions over Israel have taken center stage during a commencement ceremony for the New York City public law school. The school, which is known for fostering public interest lawyers, has been a hot spot for pro-Palestinian activism for years, and its graduation ceremonies have recently become the site of conflict over politics related to Israel.

For the past two years, law school commencement speakers have made support for Palestinians and opposition to Israel a focus of their speeches, eliciting criticism from public officials, who called the speeches antisemitic.

In 2023, Fatima Mousa Mohammed, a Yemeni immigrant and an activist devoted to the Palestinian cause, denounced “Israeli settler colonialism” in her address. The speech set off furious coverage and a wave of public criticism, including from Mayor Eric Adams, who spoke at the same ceremony and condemned the speech’s “divisiveness.”

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