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SAIC Students Demand ‘No Happy Graduation While Gaza is Under Attack’

Protesting takes the stage at SAIC’s 2024 commencement ceremony

By Featured, News, SAIC

The typical graduation day at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago features speeches, awards, and diplomas, and is colored by the creativity of its students. But the commencement ceremony on May 20 at the Wintrust Arena took on a different tone.

This year, some students used the graduation ceremony as a place to protest. The students said they were protesting SAIC’s refusal to be transparent about and divest any money going towards supporting Israel, with emphasis on  SAIC’s ties to the Crown family.

Instagram story post from @saic_pl showing their commencement program which shares information about the arrests made on May 4, 2024, at the Art Institute Garden in the top right, instructions for different forms of protest students can engage in the bottom right, and information about the Crown family.

As names were called, more than a dozen graduating students walked across the stage, refused to shake hands with President Elissa Tenny, and tore up yellow papers with an image of a crown with nukes and bullets referring to the Crown family’s ownership stake with weapons manufacturer General Dynamics.

An image of the yellow flyers torn up by students on stage was posted to the @saic_pl Instagram showing the crown illustration with instructions to call for divestment on stage.

Some students garnered keffiyehs, Palestinian flags, and stoles that read “Disclose investment.”  These students turned their backs to the administrative faculty on stage, while they sat in the audience.

Image of the stage after commencement covered in the torn yellow flyers of the crown with commentary from @saic_pl on their Instagram story.

Marisa, a graduate who requested to be identified by first name, has been very active in the SAIC community during her time as a student, speaking up for herself and her peers. Marisa participated in the graduation protest by walking across the stage and tearing one of the yellow papers.

“One of my favorite things about graduation was rewatching the live stream and paying attention to admin’s faces while we protested. It showed us exactly who the problems are. The school’s social media lacked any presence of our support for Palestine, again displaying SAIC’s lack of empathy and justice. Elissa Tenny and her followers only care about their reputation as well as their monetary value,” Marisa shared with F Newsmagazine.

This call for action continued after commencement with a rally outside the arena.

Post commencement rally flier shared by @saic_pl Instagram story.

These initiatives were facilitated by student-run Instagram accounts @saic_pl and @thepeoplesartinstitute, with support from education and cultural workers in Chicago @eduworkers4palichi and @culturalworkers4palichi.

The Instagram pages shared the same post in the morning the day of the commencement with the cover image of the crown paired with bloody handprints reading, “BLOOD ON THE CROWNS NO HAPPY GRADUATION WHILE GAZA IS UNDER ATTACK” on a black background. The rest of the post featured eight slides with more on the Crown Family, their alleged contributions to the war in Gaza, and their relationship to SAIC. Following this post were multiple Instagram stories from @saic_pl and @thepeoplesartinstitute with more instructions on the various forms of protest students could engage in at the ceremony.

Slide one of nine collaboratively posted on the Instagram pages of @saic_pl, @thepeoplesartinstitute, @eduworkers4palichi, and @culturalworkers4palichi showing illustrations of bloody hand prints and a crown with nukes and ammunition reading, in all caps, “Blood on the crowns no happy graduation while Gaza is under attack.”

“Celebrating this milestone from an institution that sources funds from General Dynamics feels sickening, hypocritical, and negates what we believe it truly means to be an artist. How can we celebrate graduation when every single university in Gaza has been destroyed? How can we look towards our future when so many students in Gaza have been robbed of any sense of future?” reads a portion of the shared post description.

SAIC students are only a portion of the many college students fighting for Palestinian liberation who are continuing to speak and protest through the rest of graduation season.

SAIC Administration was unable to provide a response before our deadline.

This is a developing story.


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