Northwestern University – May 16, 2017

ICE officials not welcomed as guest speakers in class

Evanston, IL

A public relations official from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was prevented from speaking to a sociology class due to protests inside and outside the classroom. Northwestern University’s president condemned the actions of the protesters, accusing them of “violat[ing] the rights of other enrolled students who were present to learn.”

Key Players

Beth Redbird, an assistant professor in Northwestern University’s Department of Sociology, invited a representative from ICE to speak to a class. Her guest was prevented from speaking by student protesters.

University President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer released a joint statement in which they condemned the student protests and encouraged free academic debate. The statement read, in part, “While we understand the point of view expressed by the students protesting the guest lecturers invited to speak here, the resulting disturbance not only limited the academic inquiry central to our campus, it also forced invited speakers to leave and violated the rights of other enrolled students who were present to learn.”

Further Details

Student groups, including MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán) de Northwestern, Black Lives Matter NU, the Immigrant Justice Project, the Asian Pacific American Coalition, NU Queer Trans Intersex People of Color, and Rainbow Alliance, worked collectively to prevent a representative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from speaking to a session of Sociology 201, according to the Newseum Institute. The class examines “inequality in American society with an emphasis on race, class and gender,” reports The Daily Northwestern.

The protest began outside the classroom with students holding a banner that read “No More Deportations” and chanting “Fuck I.C.E.” Northwestern University administrators permitted them to enter the classroom so long as they were not disruptive, The Daily Northwestern reports. But once inside, the students did not sit down and asked Redbird why she had invited the representative to class. The ICE representative left soon after the protesters entered the room. Redbird told the protesters that she had invited the official to explain to students how the agency worked. “If you want to make change in a community, you need to know what’s going on,” she said, according to The Daily Northwestern. Redbird also told students that she had intended to invite an undocumented student to speak to the class, but decided against it due to safety and privacy concerns. While some student protesters left the room, others stayed to engage Redbird in a discussion over the potential consequences of her invitation.

A statement published on MEChA de Northwestern’s Facebook page read, in part, “The presence of an ICE PR agent whose sole purpose is to make ICE ‘look good’ and recruit students implies university complicity and encouragement of the actions of this organization. We do not engage in conversations with ICE in any way, shape or form regardless of their position.” Additionally, the group demanded that the university become a sanctuary campus for undocumented individuals. They also demanded that a resource center be created specifically for students who are undocumented.

Student protesters complained to The Daily Northwestern that the freedom of speech is frequently invoked to “defend views that can be damaging to some.” They also claimed to be utilizing their own freedom of speech by protesting the official’s presence.

Northwestern University’s Faculty Senate issued a statement supporting civil discourse among those who disagree. “Within our classrooms, we do not silence the unpopular views; rather, we encourage exploration and debate them,” the statement said. “We are responsible for creating classrooms where our students can question any speaker or any perspective in a civil and academic manner.”

Outcome

ICE Representative was Prevented from Speaking

A representative of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was unable to deliver a planned lecture to a sociology class due to student protests. The students claimed that the representative’s presence could be dangerous and hurtful for individuals at Northwestern who are undocumented.

University Condemns Student Protesters

The university president and provost criticized student protesters for suppressing academic debate and infringing upon the freedom of expression. They wrote, “Free expression must be protected and should be countered with more debate, close examination and critical thinking — not censorship.”

External References:

Students Protest ICE Representative’s Visit to Campus, The Daily Northwestern

ICE Agent at Northwestern Shut Out of Class, Inside Higher Ed

Northwestern Faculty Responds to Student Protest of ICE Speaker, Newseum Institute

Prepared by Will Haskell ‘18

August 11, 2017