Indian Student Slams Harvard University for Barring Pro-Palestine Protesters in Graduation Speech

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Following Shruthi Kumar’s speech, over 1,000 Harvard University students staged a walkout in solidarity with the 13 undergraduates.

CAMBRIDGE — In a dramatic turn of events during Harvard University’s commencement ceremony, Shruthi Kumar, a graduating student from Nebraska, deviated from her prepared speech to sharply criticize the university for its actions against students protesting Israel’s military actions in Gaza.

Kumar, an Indian American chosen to deliver the English commencement address for the undergraduate class, used her platform to highlight what she described as the university’s intolerance towards freedom of speech and civil disobedience, reported Vartha Bharati.

“As I stand here today, I must take a moment to recognize my peers—the 13 undergraduates in the class of 2024 who will not graduate today,” Kumar stated, referring to the students who were barred from graduating due to their involvement in pro-Palestine protests. Despite a majority vote by the faculty of arts and sciences in favor of allowing these students to graduate, the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body, decided on Wednesday to prevent them from graduating.

According to the Harvard Crimson, the 13 students faced disciplinary action for their active participation in campus protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza, which the protesters described as genocidal. This decision sparked significant backlash among the student body and faculty.

During her speech, Shruthi Kumar pulled out a piece of paper containing her off-script remarks, which she had hidden in her gown. “I am deeply disappointed by the intolerance for freedom of speech and the right to civil disobedience on campus,” she declared, receiving widespread applause and a standing ovation from her peers.

She continued, “The students have spoken. The faculty have spoken. Harvard, do you hear us?”

Kumar also highlighted personal experiences of being targeted, stating, “In the fall, my name and identity, alongside other black and brown students at Harvard, were publicly targeted. For many of us, students of color, doxxing left our jobs uncertain, our safety uncertain, our well-being uncertain.”

She called for solidarity, emphasizing the importance of empathy and support despite differences in personal experiences. “We are in a moment of intense division and disagreement in our community over the events in Gaza. I see pain, anxiety, and unrest across campus. But, it’s now in a moment like this that the power of not knowing becomes critical. Maybe, we don’t know what it’s like to be ethnically targeted. Maybe, we don’t know what it’s like to come face to face with violence and death. But, we don’t have to know. Solidarity is not dependent on what we know. Because, not knowing is an ethical stance,” she said.

Following Kumar’s speech, over 1,000 Harvard University students staged a walkout in solidarity with the 13 undergraduates.

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