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Skirmish Breaks Out During Pomona College’s Graduation in LA

At least one person was arrested after scuffles broke out among pro-Palestinian protesters, private security officers and police officers outside Pomona College’s commencement in Los Angeles on Sunday evening, the latest confrontation between the school and a protest movement that has received strong support from students and faculty on campus.

The skirmish occurred outside the Shrine Auditorium, in downtown Los Angeles, where school administrators had made a last-minute decision to relocate the event. Since last week, protesters had been camping out on the school’s graduation stage at its campus in Claremont about 40 miles away.

As graduates and their families lined up outside the auditorium, more than a hundred protesters converged on the group, unfurling banners that read “Pomona College divest from genocide now,” and chanting “Shame!”

Minor fights broke out after demonstrators attempted to block some family members of the graduates from entering the venue. Los Angeles Police Department officers in riot gear moved in to disperse the crowd. No injuries were reported, and the commencement went on as scheduled.

Hours before the event on Sunday, as the university was preparing to bus students to the new graduation site, protesters took down their encampment on campus and declared victory in a statement, saying they had accomplished their goal of disrupting commencement.

The protesters at Pomona College, a private liberal arts college, began camping on campus in late March near a pro-Palestinian art project that was erected near a student services building. The project was dismantled by the college in early April, and protesters responded by storming and occupying the president’s office, leading to 20 arrests.

At the time, protesters voluntarily removed their encampment, but students returned last week, erecting tents on the stage that had been set up for graduation. Many students and faculty members believe the school has been hesitant to clear the new encampment because of criticism by some over the arrests last month. The school did not respond to a request for an interview.

Protesters at Pomona College have called on the school to disclose its investments in weapons manufacturers that work with Israel and negotiate on divestment. In February, the student government voted in favor of an academic boycott of Israel — the severing of relations with the country’s academic and cultural institutions — and approved a resolution calling on the college to disclose its ties to companies connected to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

Pomona College is one of five undergraduate colleges and two graduate institutions that make up the Claremont Colleges. At Pitzer College, another Claremont College, an encampment was disbanded by protesters after the president agreed on May 3 to disclose “its holdings in military and weapons manufacturers.”

The success at Pitzer has galvanized protesters at Pomona, who say that the college has so far not engaged with their demands.

For Lucía Driessen, 23, a student graduating with degrees in public policy analysis and biology, relocating the commencement to Los Angeles meant that her friends from other Claremont Colleges could not attend. And because a livestream of the ceremony was canceled, her parents could not watch from the East Coast.

“We’re used to graduation being a really big community thing on our campuses” she said. “And now it’s like we were ripped away from our community.”

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