Student protesters reach a deal with Northwestern University that sparks criticism from all sides

CHICAGO — For five days, Northwestern University’s Deering Meadow echoed with the cries of student protesters and their supporters joining demonstrations against the war between Israel and Hamas on college campuses across the country.

But on Tuesday morning, the campus lawn in Chicago’s northwest suburbs remained silent after student organizers and the school announced a deal Monday night to curb protest activity — in exchange for the creation of a new advisory committee on university investments and other commitments.

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

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

The harsh response and escalation of protests elsewhere Tuesday suggest Northwestern’s deal is unlikely to spark similar deals, even though it quickly shut down protest activity in Evanston.

The agreement allows protests to continue until June 1 but bans all tents except one for humanitarian aid. It also prevents 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.

Northwestern’s statement said it will enforce the agreement, which includes possible sanctions for students who fail to comply, such as suspension.

“This agreement represents a sustainable and peaceful 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 a statement attributed to 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 were among the critics of the Northwest administrators, arguing that the agreement “succumbed to the demands of a mob” and did little to Jewish students on campus feel safer.

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 an advisory committee was a first step toward divestment — an initial demand that the school stop investing in any companies that profit from the war.

University officials did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages seeking more information about the role of the advisory committee or the history of a similar body at Northwestern. The agreement said it would 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.

But organizers seemed to anticipate disappointment and said they viewed the deal as a start and would continue to pressure 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 reestablishing an advisory committee was “huge,” but she also understands the criticism of the deal.

“We are not taking the pressure off Northwestern because there are people on this campus who have not felt safe, have for years, and disclosure will not make them feel safe,” Melles said. “This is not going to solve the problems that this university has cultivated.”

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

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

Administrators and student organizers at the protest on the Providence, Rhode Island, campus said President Christina Paxson has committed to having the school’s board of trustees vote in October on the student divestment proposal . Protest organizers announced they would end the demonstrations by Tuesday evening.

Pro-Palestinian tent encampments began sweeping across the country after a crackdown on a 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.

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

In Baltimore, leaders of Johns Hopkins University announced Tuesday morning 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 camp 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.”


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

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