Emory to move graduations off-campus in midst of pro-Palestinian, 'Cop City' protests

Students, faculty and protesters arrive at the doors of Emory University's Candler School of Theology where other student and faculty activists inside stage a sit-in on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

In the wake of political protests that have dominated its campus for over a week, Emory University has announced that its graduation ceremonies will no longer be taking place on the ground’s Atlanta campus.

On Monday, the university stated that it instead plans to move the celebrations to Duluth’s Gas South District, a compound that includes Gas South Arena and the Gas South Convention Center.

“This change in venue impacts Emory’s university-wide Commencement celebration as well as the diploma ceremonies for all nine schools, including Oxford College,” said Emory President Gregory L. Fenves in an online letter to the student body.

“Please know that this decision was not taken lightly. It was made in close consultation with the Emory Police Department, security advisors, and other agencies — each of which advised against holding Commencement events on our campuses.”

Undergraduate ceremonies are expected to begin on Monday, May 13, at 8:30 a.m. at Gas South Arena. The university notes under an FAQ section of its website that all events will be livestreamed and that faculty and graduates will need the EmoryCard to be granted entry. 

The website also noted any attempts from attendees to protest under circumstances where the health or safety of persons is endangered, to cause substantial disruption to the event that impedes the rights of other attendees, among other disruptions, will not be tolerated. 

On April 25, students created an encampment on campus to call for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and to protest the construction of the controversial Atlanta Public Training Center, dubbed by opponents as “Cop City.”

Arrests are made as Atlanta Police Department and Georgia State Partrol order Pro-Palestinian and “Cop City” protesters to disperse from the quad on Emory University campus on Thursday, April 25, 2024. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

What protesters said was meant to be a peaceful demonstration immediately became disrupted by Emory police, who made multiple arrests and deployed chemical irritants into the crowd.

“Several dozen protesters trespassed into Emory University’s campus early Thursday morning and set up tents on the Quad,” said assistant vice president of university communications Laura Diamond to WABE on the day of the protest.

“These individuals are not members of our community. They are activists attempting to disrupt our university as our students finish classes and prepare for finals.”

Diamond later updated her statement to say, “Some members of the Emory community later joined the initial group.”

Emory is one of several universities nationwide that have made the decision to change graduation plans in the wake of escalating protests.

Also on Monday, Columbia University in New York City announced that it would be canceling its university-wide graduation ceremony due to ongoing protests that have made national headlines. The Ivy League institution will now have smaller ceremonies among its 19 colleges.

In addition, after canceling its mainstage commencement ceremony, The University of Southern California will honor its graduates at a celebration event at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum this Thursday.

While plans may be subject to change for Emory’s ceremonies even further, the university states that it is dedicated to honoring the achievements of the class of 2024 — one that Fenves credits as “a class like no other.”

“You will have your moment together, in person, alongside the people who matter to you the most. Each of your names will be read aloud, and each of you will be conferred an Emory degree,” the president said, wrapping up his letter. “We will applaud your dedication, your accomplishments, and your resilience.”

In an unprecedented move, the Emory College faculty overwhelmingly supported a resolution expressing no confidence in Fenves on Friday, May 3, according to Atlanta Civic Circle.