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Northwestern University reach deal with student protesters that sparks criticism

CHICAGO (AP) — For five days, the cries of student demonstrators and supporters rang out from Northwestern University’s Deering Meadow as they joined protests against the War between Israel and Hamas unfolds on college campuses across the country.

But the field at the suburban Chicago campus fell silent hours after student organizers and the school announced a deal Monday night to curb protest activity in exchange for reestablishing a university investment advisory committee and other commitments.

As of Tuesday, only two unoccupied tents remained, surrounded by abandoned folding chairs, cases of bottled water and other supplies.

By quickly defusing the protests in Evanston and avoiding the longer clashes that occurred on other campuses, Northwestern’s agreement offered an example of successful negotiations between antiwar protesters and administrators. Brown University announced a similar agreement Tuesday, while Johns Hopkins University administrators focused their discussions on limiting student protests to daytime hours.

Yet this arrangement has sparked dissension on both sides.

Some protesters against the Gaza war condemned the Northwest deal, calling it a failure to meet student organizers’ initial demands. Some Israel supporters said the deal represented a “cowardly” capitulation to protesters.

The agreement allows protests to continue until June 1 but bans all tents except one for humanitarian aid. The pact also blocks people without ties to Northwestern from participating and requires permission from the school to use speakers or similar devices, according to copies made public by the school and student organizers.

University administrations across the country have employed a variety of strategies in response to the protests. In some places, police arrested dozens of people. Elsewhere, campus leaders have sought to negotiate protest strategies while allowing them to continue.

Northwestern said the terms provide sanctions for students who do not comply, including suspension.

Signs are posted outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois.  Students want the university to divest from funds linked to Israel or that profit from its war in Gaza.  (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Signs are posted outside a tent encampment at Northwestern University Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Students want the university to divest from funds linked to Israel or that profit from its war in Gaza. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

“This agreement represents a sustainable, escalation-free path forward, and improves the safety of all members of the Northwestern community while providing a space for free expression consistent with University rules and policies,” said in a statement from President Michael Schill and Dean Kathleen Hagerty. and Vice President of Student Affairs Susan Davis.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League Midwest criticized the university, arguing that the deal “succumbed to the demands of a mob” and did little to help Jewish students on campus feel more secure.

Pro-Palestinian tent camps began to invade the country after a crackdown at Columbia University when police arrested more than 100 protesters on April 18. On Tuesday evening, Columbia called police back to evacuate protesters who had occupied a campus building.

Across the country, organizers of protests at U.S. universities say they are building a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war. One of the many groups that planned the anti-war protests at Northwestern was Jewish Voice for Peace.

In Instagram posts about the deal, protest organizers said reestablishing the advisory committee was a first step toward divestment – ​​an original request that the school stops investing in all companies that profit from the war.

University officials did not respond to messages seeking more information about the role of the advisory committee or the history of a similar body at Northwestern. The agreement called for the committee to include students, faculty and staff.

Protest organizers also highlighted Northwestern’s commitment to building a home for Muslim student activities and raising money for scholarships for Palestinian undergraduates.

Tents, flags and other supplies remain at Deering Meadow on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Tuesday, April 30, 2024, a day after university and protest organizers announced a deal that largely ended days-long anti-war protests.  (AP Photo/Melissa Perez Winder)

Tents, flags and other supplies remain at Deering Meadow on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., Tuesday, April 30, 2024, a day after university and protest organizers announced a deal that largely ended days-long anti-war protests. (AP Photo/Melissa Perez Winder)

But the organizers seemed to anticipate disappointment. They said they viewed the agreement as a start and would continue to put pressure on administrators.

“We have seen incredible momentum build for our movement in recent days and we will not let it go to waste,” reads the NU Divestment Coalition Instagram account. “We see this as the ideal time to take stock, recharge, plan and expand energy. But we have a lot of work ahead of us and we won’t stop now. »

Eden Melles, a graduate student among the organizers of the Northwest protests, said Tuesday that the reinstatement of the advisory committee is “huge,” but she also understands the criticism of the deal.

“I know a lot of students and people, members of the community, are disappointed with this deal,” Melles said. “But I just want to say that there are things in this agreement that I think a lot of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students have been fighting for for a long time. But this agreement in no way means that this movement is dying or that we are stopping.”

She said organizers at each campus must make their own decisions in negotiations with administrators, not follow an exact model created by another school.

A tent encampment is seen at Northwestern University Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois.  Students want the university to divest from funds linked to Israel or that profit from its war in Gaza.  (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

A tent encampment is seen at Northwestern University Friday, April 26, 2024, in Evanston, Illinois. Students want the university to divest from funds linked to Israel or that profit from its war in Gaza. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Brown University on Tuesday became the second school to announce an agreement to end student protests.

Administrators and student organizers of the protest on the campus in Providence, Rhode Island, said President Christina Paxson pledged that the school’s board of trustees would vote in October on the divestment proposal students. The protest organizers removed their tents on Tuesday.

In Baltimore, leaders of Johns Hopkins University announced Tuesday that they had reached an agreement with student demonstrators who began setting up an encampment Monday evening. After several hours of discussion, they said, the students agreed to empty the encampment and resume protests only during the day.

“Our conversations have been frank and constructive,” wrote University President Ron Daniels and Dean Ray Jayawardhana in a message to the school community. “We are immensely relieved by this peaceful and productive resolution. »

But protesters from the group Hopkins Justice Collective released statements saying their protest would continue through the night and would not end “until demands are met.”

“We are not letting Johns Hopkins close our encampment,” they wrote in a social media post. “We are always here.”

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder and reporter Lea Skene in Baltimore contributed.

News Source : apnews.com
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