Northwestern University students build encampment on Deering Meadow in pro-Palestinian protest

ByStephanie Wade, Liz Nagy, and ABC7 Chicago Digital Team WLS logo
Friday, April 26, 2024
Pro-Palestinian protestors set up encampment at Northwestern
The encampment at Northwestern began on Thursday, just a day after students were arrested in Texas and California following pro-Palestinian protests.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Students at Northwestern University joined other colleges throughout the country on Thursday.

Demonstrators standing in solidarity with Palestine and protesting what they call censorship from the university, and call on the institution to divest from Israel.

Chopper 7 captured video of students setting up tents and creating signs on Deering Meadow around 7:30 a.m. this morning. They remained at the location unwavering into Thursday evening.

Students built an encampment on Deering Meadow, they said they plan to occupy the area until Northwestern stops supporting Israeli occupation.

"They're well aware that disclosing investments and divesting from genocide is something that many students want," a student protestor, who did not want to be identified, said.

The encampment at Northwestern University began early on Thursday. A spokesperson for the school said this was prohibited and was working with demonstrators to remove the tents.

Protesters formed a human chain, locking arms to prevent police from pushing through to the encampment, putting their bodies and education on the line, they said, to stand with those in Gaza. Chopper 7 captured law enforcement officers patrolling the protest in the daytime.

"As students of this university we feel it's important we can attend and study without the consciousness that our tuition funds a genocide," a student protestor, who did not want to be identified, said.

Non-student news media was barred from covering the protest.

Protesters were in a human chain for multiple hours, chanting and sitting on the ground with their arms linked. No arrests have been made, police said.

But Jewish students say this protest makes them uneasy- and divesting in Israel is problematic

As the protest continues to expand, Northwestern University said setting up tent encampments on campus is prohibited under university policy.

Still, students said they will not budge until their demands are met.

"I think it's really inspiring. It's inspiring to see students coming together to common care for one another, to bring each other food and water and to support each other. And to also stand with their Palestinian and Middle Eastern peers to say we are not OK with your families and friends being indiscriminately murdered," said one protester, who did not want to be identified.

Jewish students whom ABC7 spoke to on campus said the protests and the growing tension makes them feel uneasy.

"It's hard to hear, especially since most of us hold a lot of pain in our heart for the war that has been ongoing and it has completely torn our lives apart," said Jeremy Berkun, student.

RELATED | 93 arrested at USC following pro-Palestinian protest: police

A rally by pro-Palestinian demonstrators turned chaotic at USC's Alumni Park, as police confronted protesters who attempted to set up an encampment on campus.

"It's hard. Especially with what we've seen across the country, you don't know what to think and you don't know who is who. I think it's difficult and it's unsettling," said Michael Braun, student.

Some Jewish students told ABC7 that divesting in Israel is problematic.

"If you use Google Maps, you're using Israeli technology. If you have a self driving car that's Israeli technology," said Sam Feldman, student. "It's just not a possibility in today's world to divest from Israel. I also don't think it's a good idea. I think it's horrifically anti-Semitic to divest from the world's only Jewish state."

University President Michael Schill sent a letter to students Thursday morning saying the university had enacted an "interim addendum" to the Student Code of Conduct to prohibit tents. The letter said that protesters had been informed they were in violation of university policies and that the university was removing tents that protesters didn't take down.

A news release from NU Educators for Justice in Palestine, Student Liberation Union and Jewish Voice for Peace said the camp is meant to be "a safe space for those who want to show their support of the Palestinian people."

Students, faculty, and staff said they are putting their bodies, education, and jobs on the line to stand with the Palestinian people.

A Northwestern University spokesperson released the following statement after 11 p.m. on Thursday:

"Today, members of our community, along with individuals unaffiliated with Northwestern, set up an encampment on Deering Meadow, in violation of University policy. Throughout the day, University officials spoke with the demonstrators, including a two-hour meeting with senior administrators this evening, to convey that while we strongly support free expression, the safety of all members of our community cannot and will not be compromised, nor can their expression disrupt the learning environment or University operations. The University offered to let the demonstrators continue to peacefully assemble if they comply with Northwestern policies, including removing tents and ceasing the use of bullhorns and speakers. The offer was declined. The University will move forward with other options to protect the safety of the community and the continued operations of the Evanston campus."

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Protesters were on the meadow chanting and drumming, with some holding up signs facing the street saying "Divest from death, invest in life" and "NU = hedge fund." One faculty member was shouting, "You will not touch our students." Students were shouting, "The more you try to silence us, the louder we will get."

No arrests have been made at the Evanston campus.

This comes as dozens of students have been arrested across the country in pro-Palestinian demonstrations at other universities.

Police arrested 93 people on and around the University of Southern California campus, mostly on misdemeanor trespass Wednesday night.

Last week, USC canceled the valedictorian's speech out of safety concerns considering her pro-Palestinian views, sparking backlash. The student, Asna Tabassum, is a first-generation South Asian-American Muslim who majored in biomedical engineering and minored in resistance to genocide, according to a statement published through the Greater Los

Angeles Area office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

At the University of Texas in Austin, police aggressively detained dozens protesting the Israel-Hamas.

The actions across the U.S. came after Columbia University averted another confrontation between students and police earlier in the day.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.