What will graduation look like after two protests at the University of Utah this week? -Deseret News

After two pro-Palestinian protests on the University of Utah campus earlier this week, one of which was broken up by police, the university is turning its attention to its commencement and convocation ceremonies on Thursday and Friday.

The university will increase security measures at the beginning, said university spokeswoman Rebecca Walsh.

“In light of recent protests across the country and on our campus, and out of an abundance of caution, we will be deploying additional police and security officers to the Jon M. Huntsman Center to respond to unrest within the arena.

“We listen to the protesters and they have the right to express their point of view. However, they have no right to disrupt this celebration of their colleagues’ years of hard work and academic achievements,” Walsh said.

She continued: “As a public institution, the University of Utah upholds and protects the right to free expression on our campus.” However, there are reasonable limits in the First Amendment to the time and place of such expression. Our protesters are welcome to continue to express their opinions outside.”

To ensure the safety of all participants, graduates and guests, they will be required to undergo a weapons identification check before entering the Jon M. Huntsman Center for graduation and Kingsbury Hall, where several gatherings will be held.

On Thursday, the university will celebrate the graduation of 8,652 graduates from every state and 64 countries who earned 9,266 degrees.

“I ask our campus community to support our graduates by expressing their opinions in a dignified, peaceful and legal manner. “This is us exercising our right to free speech, honoring our graduates and embodying civil society,” University of Utah President Taylor Randall said in a statement following Monday’s protest and short-lived encampment.

Twenty people were arrested for refusing to comply with police orders to disperse after Monday night's protest was declared an unlawful assembly.

Police officers from the University of Utah Police Department, Salt Lake City Police Department, West Valley City Police Department, Utah Highway Patrol and Unified Police moved in to disperse the crowd after several hours of failed negotiations between Academic Senate leaders, some faculty members and student protesters were persuade the protesters to disperse.

They also failed to heed a series of warnings from police, who acknowledged the group's constitutional right to free speech but said their actions violated state law and university policy, according to the university's report on the events.

Sections of fencing were erected to make it easier for people to enter Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, May 1, 2024. After two pro-Palestinian protests, the University of Utah is holding planned opening exercises. Weapon detectors will be used at each venue and other restrictions similar to those for sporting events will apply. | Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

Other venue requirements

Guests are not permitted to bring bags into the venues, with the exception of diaper bags containing a small child or medical bags. Both must be searched upon entering any facility.

Several items are not permitted in venues, including alcohol, umbrellas, drones, weapons, artificial noisemakers, backpacks, fireworks, outdoor drinks and food, confetti, strollers and balloons.

Walking frames or wheelchairs that are not used as seats are not permitted. At the Huntsman Center they can be kept in the ticket office at Portal 23. There are designated ADA spaces in the arena for wheelchair users.

There is no charge for parking in campus parking lots during college commencement and convocation ceremonies. Due to limited parking, graduates and guests are encouraged to use TRAX and the university's free campus shuttle service.

For those unable to attend in person, the university's commencement ceremony will be streamed online in real time at on Thursday beginning at 6 p.m. Visit the College Convocation website for information about streaming convocation ceremonies.

Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith America, is the keynote speaker at the opening. He is also one of the University of Utah Impact Scholars.

Walsh said the state's flagship institution is “very pleased to celebrate the hard work and dedication of one of the largest graduating classes here at the University of Utah – the Class of 2024.”

“They began their academic careers at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but persevered and deserve to celebrate this moment. We are particularly aware that many of this year’s graduates were unable to attend high school graduation ceremonies due to the pandemic.”

To mark the occasion, each member of the class will receive a pin honoring their “resilience,” she said.

In addition to the University of Utah, two other large public universities in the state are also celebrating on Thursday evening. Utah State University and Utah Valley University will also hold commencement ceremonies at their respective campuses.

Anna Harden

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