Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer
University administrators said participants of a Tuesday protest that led to the cancellation of a guest lecture by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement public relations representative were “disrespectful.”
In a statement to students, University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Dan Linzer said the student protesters’ behavior was “inappropriate and contrary to the values of the University.” They said the University is reviewing facts around Tuesday’s events to “determine the appropriate actions to be taken by the University.”
Tuesday’s protest was held in response to sociology Prof. Beth Redbird’s invitation of an unidentified ICE public relations representative to Sociology 201. Student demonstrators said the ICE representative’s presence could be disturbing and harmful for undocumented people on campus or students who’ve seen a loved one detained by the federal agency. In their statement, Schapiro and Linzer said “faculty members are free to encourage academic discussions within their classrooms, including inviting speakers of their choice.”
The protest was led by members of MEChA de Northwestern, the Immigrant Justice Project, Asian Pacific American Coalition, Queer Trans Intersex People of Color, Black Lives Matter NU and Rainbow Alliance. In response to Schapiro and Linzer’s statement, students in the Coalition of Students for Immigrant Justice released a statement saying they “did what was necessary to prioritize the safety of our immigrant community through our demands and actions.”
Schapiro and Linzer said the University recognizes the “need for robust discussion about difficult and, at times, polarizing issues.” That’s why, they said, free expression must be protected and countered with more debate, not censorship.
“While we understand the point of view expressed by the students protesting the guest lecturers invited to speak here, the resulting disturbance not only limited the academic inquiry central to our campus, it also forced invited speakers to leave and violated the rights of other enrolled students who were present to learn,” Schapiro and Linzer said in their statement.
Students in the coalition said they were “appalled” by the administrators’ statement, saying it further legitimized ICE’s platform on campus.
“The university statement ignores the trauma of undocumented and racialized peoples and perpetuates violence cloaked in the distracting and irrelevant rhetoric of ‘academic freedom of speech’,” the students wrote.
In their statement, student coalition members also condemned Redbird’s decision to invite the ICE representative, saying it was “reckless.” The students’ decision to protest, they said, was not academic censorship but “a disruption prompted by the silencing of our voices.”
The students said the University “failed on its promise following the November elections of ‘providing support and reassurance’ to those threatened with deportation.”
“As students, we value academic spaces to learning dissenting views, but cannot compromise the safety of our community members,” the students’ statement said. “The myopic rhetoric of ‘academic freedom’ and ‘hearing the other side’ effectively offers up the humanity of undocumented migrants as a valid topic of debate.”
Associated Student Government also released a statement regarding the protest, saying though it respects Redbird’s “desire to educate students about discriminatory and hostile power structures,” the presence of an ICE representative was not necessary for the class.
“We stand with undocumented and Latinx students, and we support the protesters’ demands and their exercise of free speech,” ASG’s statement said.
In its statement, ASG also asked that the University develop a resource center for undocumented students, declare the campus a sanctuary for undocumented people, eliminate E-verify and other discriminatory employment practices and divest from companies they said “aid in the privatization of state violence against immigrant communities.”
“ASG supports the expression of diverse viewpoints, but we must recognize that for millions of Americans, the presence of ICE does not represent a simple opinion,” the statement said. “It represents an institution that currently inflicts violence against them and their families.”
Students in sociology class respond to lecture disruption
Medill freshman Nefertari Bilal said she took Redbird’s class because she wanted to learn more about inequality to apply class lessons to her everyday life.
Bilal said Redbird told her students on the first day of class that she was there to help them think critically and push them out of their comfort zone. Bilal said it was fitting for Redbird to invite the ICE representative to class. She said NU is “fairly liberal and a lot of people here are really supportive of issues like immigration,” so students had to listen to the other side of the argument.
The ICE representative didn’t have a chance to talk, Bilal said, but things “deteriorated” when demonstrating students began arguing with Redbird and students in the class.
“We wanted ICE to come,” Bilal said. “There was a general consensus. We wanted to have the opportunity to see how they present themselves, how does their outreach work. How do they try to convince people to follow their point of view and to like challenge them on … what they were saying.”
Weinberg freshman Deborah Shoola, who is also in the class, said some of her classmates may have felt the protesters were intruding their space because they might not “feel anything when they see ICE.”
“A lot of people didn’t even know what ICE was before the class, because they never had to deal with them, they had the privilege not to go through it,” she said. “They were just blinded by that free speech argument to look at the protest as anything deeper than that.”
Bilal said she disagreed with the protesters because of the way they behaved toward the class. She said they can’t get people to work with them if they are going to “show total disregard for their feelings.” Instead of hearing a discussion between differing points of views, Bilal said she and her classmates “came out with even less knowledge, because (the protesters) didn’t educate us.”
“You can’t just act like that toward people you don’t agree with,” she said. “I’m not saying they shouldn’t have protested, but I really just did not like how they conducted themselves towards my professor and my classmates. That really made my blood boil.”
Shoola said some of her classmates turned the protest into an argument about free speech and hate speech. The protest, Shoola said, was more about speaking out for students who might have felt threatened by the ICE representative’s presence on campus.
Schapiro, Shoola said, “has preached so much about safe spaces,” but bringing the ICE representative to campus was a direct violation of what a safe space is.
“If you’re only listening to one viewpoint then you’re not learning, which is true, but I think this protest was a lot deeper than that,” she said. “Thinking about this protest in a free speech versus hate speech is very one-dimensional. We’re talking about a group that represents so much hate and fear, bringing them onto campus makes students uncomfortable.”
Allyson Chiu and Matthew Choi contributed reporting.
This story was updated to clarify that Associated Student Government’s statement was a response to the protest.
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