Officials threaten disciplinary action amid U of C pro-Palestinian encampment; DePaul protest begins

Effort part of nationwide movement over Israel-Hamas war

Wednesday, May 1, 2024
Pro-Palestinian encampments spring up at DePaul, U of C
Pro-Palestinian encampments spring up at DePaul, U of C

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Hundreds of protesters are camped out on the quad at the University of Chicago campus, for the second day.

It's part of a nationwide movement over the Israel-Hamas war.

Pro-Palestinian protesters said they're prepared to stay as long as it takes.

They had about 40 tents set up Tuesday morning, including a medic tent and even an encampment library as they entered day two of their protest.

Dozens of students spent the first night camped out on the University of Chicago's campus.

"A lot of people pulled through, some on a very last-minute basis," U of C student Christopher Iacovetti said.

RELATED: Pro-Palestinian encampment set up at UChicago; protesters agree stop camping at NU, school says

Food, supplies, signs and banners were quickly gathered, following in the footsteps of other college campuses nationwide.

Tents were also set up at the University of Illinois in Champaign. And, after five days at Northwestern, the school and protesters agreed to end their encampment.

However, protests in Evanston are expected to continue.

"You can't fight fire with fire. It's got to stop. It's just hurting the kids. It's just hurting the learning," said Danielle Deutsch, the mother of a Northwestern student. "I think free speech is fine; it's just got to be a different way to go about protesting this."

Some Jewish students had a counter-protest there Tuesday afternoon.

Several Jewish groups are calling for the president of Northwestern to resign over how the school handled its encampment.

The Anti-Defamation League and two other groups call the agreement reached with demonstrators "reprehensible and dangerous."

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators at U of C said their university demands are simple: Divest from the Gaza genocide and Israeli institutions and disclose investments in its endowment that some say benefit Israel.

"It's the only choice they've left us with," Iacovetti said. "We've tried everything else. We've emailed them. We've called them. We've requested a public meeting. We've organized press conferences outside of the administration building and urge them to attend. We've held to sit-in and urging them to meet with us, and we got arrested for it."

Tuesday morning, Jewish students on campus also hung banners of their own in the quad.

"We wanted to respond to the antisemitic rhetoric that is happening here and the misinformation that is happening here," a Ph.D. student who wanted to be anonymous said.

SEE ALSO: Protesters take over Columbia University's Hamilton Hall in escalation of anti-war demonstrations

The student said he feels unsafe and unprotected, amid these collegiate protests.

"It's important to also show our community or people who feel like they are being silenced that there is a voice here," he said.

The school said it's committed to upholding students' right to protest, but said setting up tents is subject to discipline.

"We're here on the basis of deep, moral and spiritual commitment," Iacovetti said. "This goes to something much bigger than any of us or whatever the university might do us."

The university is threatening disciplinary action for anyone who violates school policy, which includes setting up tents.

Protest pops up at DePaul

Meanwhile, pro-Palestinian students began camping out Tuesday on the quad of DePaul University in Lincoln Park.

"This is actually a testament to the power of the people, and actually the people who are in support of Palestine and want to show up and support actions like these," Nour Odeh said. "As of right now, DePaul's investment portfolio is private, so the students don't know what their money is being invested into."

They want DePaul to divest of any investments that they say further Palestinian suffering in Gaza.

"So, I feel like coming together, sticking together for a good cause and making your voice heard is what it is about," DePaul freshman Olamipo Ajayi said.

The action began just after 10 a.m. Tuesday.

By noon, several dozen tents had been set up quickly, along with food and supplies.

"We're out here for Palestinian liberation. We know it's not antisemitic to stand for that," said Hope, a pro-Palestinian demonstrators.

Members of DePaul University Divestment Coalition Encampment have issued a list of demands, calling on the university's administration to join the city of Chicago's support of a cease-fire and cut financial ties with Israel among other things.

"These are demands that we have constantly brought up to the administration at DePaul. These demands are not new," Henna Ayesh said. "The DePaul student body does support Palestine. Our problem is with the administration, but, as you can see, most of DePaul supports us."

DePaul said it hopes to establish a dialogue with protesters "communicating limits within which the university will permit their efforts and to work toward creative solutions whereby their voices can be heard."

And while a path forward is being sought, some students hope the protests remain peaceful.

"I'm just a little afraid that it might get out of hand, and not because of these student per se, but because of the community, the police or the school," DePaul sophomore Francesa Corona said.

Later Tuesday, there was a confrontation between dueling protest groups, as pro-Israel supporters arrived.

"I just really wish that people supported the Jewish community more and maybe facilitated some kind of discussion between the two groups," said Andrey Pikovskiy, who supports Israel.

The encounter grew heated before both sides eventually dispersed.

DePaul issued a statement saying, "This morning, a group created an encampment on DePaul's Lincoln Park Campus. We are monitoring the situation closely and wish to convey our intentions for moving forward.

"We have listened to the concerns raised within our university community, and we see that many are hurting right now. Our first hope is that we can find a way to turn this pain into productive dialogue and action that leads to positive change. We are inspired by the pleas for peace shared by Pope Francis this week. Our prayers are with the people of Israel and Palestine - and all the world's population affected by war. It is our most sincere prayer that the world's leaders will work toward peace.

"We reiterate the intentions that we shared last night and the guiding principles of leadership that we shared with our DePaul community in our October message. Again, we remain steadfastly devoted to academic freedom and free speech. We are unwavering in our commitment to ensure that no acts of hatred, violence, Islamophobia, or antisemitism are tolerated in our community.

"While tents and unpermitted structures on DePaul's property violate a variety of university policies, we invite the members of our university community who are protesting to discuss with us how to peacefully express themselves. Our goal is to identify a path forward that allows our community to make their voices heard, while also respecting the rights of their fellow students to continue active engagement in their education and staying in compliance with the law and university policy.

"Again, peaceful protest long has been a legitimate means of expression at DePaul. As an institution of higher education, we teach our students to engage in civil, meaningful discussion. In this moment, we are balancing the rights of our students to voice their opinions and the needs to operate a safe environment for all constituents of the university - faculty, staff, and students alike. We have the obligation to ensure the university can continue to maintain an environment that is conducive to academic success.

"We hope to establish a dialogue with the DePaul community members who are leading the protest. We again want to note that we have a team of senior leaders, staff and faculty on campus who are here to engage with those protesting, communicating limits within which the university will permit their efforts and to work toward creative solutions whereby their voices can be heard. We remain hopeful that we can agree to these boundaries - within the policies of the university as well as the state and local ordinances - so that we can support the voices of those who are protesting.

"While it is our fervent desire to promote open dialogue in a spirit of peace, we also must protect the safety of our campus community. Violence, harassment, or intimidation as well as actions that interfere with university operations, damage property, or are disruptive to our neighbors - including but not limited to amplified sound - will lead to immediate disciplinary actions, such as suspension or expulsion, and criminal sanctions. Please remember that any complaints made directly to the Chicago Police Department by the neighboring community will be followed up by them directly, and the university will not be able to intervene in those instances.

"While our patron, Saint Vincent de Paul, is primarily recognized for his charity and compassion for the poor, may our actions within the university community during these difficult times reflect a spirit of charity and compassion toward one another. "