ASG meets with student activists, plans to begin talks with administration to revise demonstration policy


Illustration by Olivia Abeyda

Over the last month and a half, NU activists have met with ASG officers to discuss the University’s demonstration policy. Now, ASG officials plan to take those concerns to administrators on Monday.

Joanna Hou, Copy Editor

Members of Associated Student Government plan to meet with Northwestern administrators Monday to discuss potential revisions to the University’s demonstration policy. 

NU’s policy on response to student protests has sparked concerns among activists. Some worry about the vague outlining of potential consequences for violating the policy, while others believe the policy fails to protect protestors. 

Weinberg senior Margot Bartol, ASG’s executive officer of accountability, said the University’s protest policy is reviewed on a three-year cycle, with its latest review completed Aug. 20, 2020. During the review, Bartol said the policy itself remained untouched. 

After students protested at the Iowa-NU football game this fall, Bartol said some ASG leaders considered reviewing and revising the protest policy before the three-year cycle ends. Bartol and Weinberg senior Karina Karbo-Wright, ASG’s executive officer of justice and inclusion, spent the last month and a half meeting with student activists to get a sense of activists’ opinions and demands. They will introduce these points to the administration at Monday’s meeting. 

According to Bartol, the policy is unclear about the repercussions student protesters face, so administrators can decide on the consequences on a case-by-case basis. She added that this makes it difficult for student activists to conduct risk assessments for protestor safety.

Numerous concerns and debates surrounded this section of the demonstration policy last fall.

“What me and Margot really wanted to do is try to craft this new demonstration policy as much on the side of the students as we can,” Karbo-Wright said.

Activists like Students for Justice in Palestine organizer and Weinberg sophomore Assem Belhadj said the consequences outlined have hurt many students, especially students of color.

“(The policy) is contradictory to the needs of activists,” Belhadj said. “We think that it’s designed to prevent activism and prevent meaningful change at the University.”

Fundamental contradictions and unclear boundaries

In a Nov. 30 interview with The Daily, Vice President for Student Affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier said if student protestors were identified following the Nov. 6 Iowa-NU football game protest, the University would “follow up” with them. In a Nov. 9 email to students outlining the demonstration policy, possible ramifications for “disruptive” protest included “suspension, expulsion or legal consequences as appropriate.”

A SESP sophomore and member of NU Dissenters, who chose to remain anonymous because of safety concerns, said this section of the demonstration policy makes little sense to her. 

“There’s a complete and total misunderstanding of what it means to protest and (NU’s) definition of protest is not meaningful,” she said. “It’s not radical in the sense that to protest is to disrupt and in their policy that’s not allowed.”

Payne-Kirchmeier said when protest interferes with a concurrent University policy and poses a risk to safety, students may be subject to the student conduct process. She did not elaborate on specifics of the process. 

Belhadj said the ambiguity around protesting that violates the demonstration policy is an “added stress” for student activists. 

“(The demonstration policy) is a way to restrict and define ‘appropriate’ protest … but protests can’t always be just one thing defined by a rich, predominantly white institution,” Belhadj said. “It definitely comes off as insensitive. It’s really out of touch.” 

Because so many activist groups on campus choose to protest controversial issues or choose to hold the University accountable for their actions, Bartol said students don’t feel they can actively voice their opinions. 

“The school made this protest policy under the assumption that people wouldn’t be protesting the school,” Karbo-Wright said. 

Centering student activist perspectives

The Dissenters member said meetings with ASG were “extremely helpful.” During the meetings, she said she felt heard as she and fellow activists shared their concerns about the policies. Belhadj agreed and said he thought the meetings were “very productive.”

Karbo-Wright said she reached out primarily to activist groups who engage in “physical action or direct action” on campus because they would be most directly impacted by protest policy. During meetings, she said conversations revolved around defining the word protest, comparing NU’s policy to policies from other universities and finding specific language to improve on the policy. 

Bartol said it’s important to center activists’ perspectives in the discussions. 

“I’m not an activist … I shouldn’t be the person deciding what these changes are,” Bartol said. “So I’ve gotten a better idea of what activists are looking for throughout these conversations.” 

Karbo-Wright said as talks with activists went on, she started to question the intentions behind any policy limiting protest at NU. While she said she doesn’t think the administration will be receptive to removing the policy, she said she hopes some improvements will be made.

Blocks in the road

In an email to The Daily, Roma Khanna, associate provost for strategy and policy, said she and Lucas Christian, assistant dean of students, plan to meet with ASG representatives next week. 

“(I look) forward to hearing more about ASG’s work on (the demonstration policy) and to discussing potential next steps,” Khanna wrote in the email.

Karbo-Wright said the preliminary talk with administrators was slated for this week but was pushed suddenly due to “emergency meetings with the provost.” The first meeting is expected to last around 30 minutes and will help her and Bartol figure out how to present demonstration policy revision information to the Policy Review Steering Committee in February. The Steering Committee will make decisions about what policies are reviewed by the full Policy Review Committee. 

If the Policy Steering Committee agrees to modify the demonstration policy, Bartol said the next three months will center on more in-depth meetings with activists and administration to change the protest policy. She said the end product of these meetings should be a “different document.” 

Belhadj said he remains optimistic that the administration will try to meet activist demands. 

“The hope is that the University administration understands that they have the means to create a better environment for activism at NU and they have the means to protect activists,” Belhadj said.

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Twitter: @joannah_11

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