Northwestern University students shut down a sociology class Tuesday to protest an appearance by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement public relations officer.
Beth Redbird, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the private Chicago college, told Time magazine that she was forced to cancel the class over concerns for the speaker’s safety after student protesters showed up chanting and waving banners.
Ms. Redbird said she just wanted to start a discussion about immigration policies.
“The goal was to bring in somebody who was familiar with how that agency is structured,” she said.
A Department of Justice representative was also slated to speak during Tuesday’s class, Ms. Redbird told the Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper.
The protesters argued that the officer’s presence on campus posed a threat to undocumented students.
“We’re not interested in having those types of conversations that would be like, ‘Oh, let’s listen to their side of it’ because that’s making them passive rule-followers rather than active proponents of violence,” said April Navarro, who helped organize the protest. “We’re not engaging in those kinds of things; it legitimizes ICE’s violence, it makes Northwestern complicit in this. There’s an unequal power balance that happens when you deal with state apparatuses.”
The Daily Northwestern reported that Dean of Students Todd Adams had allowed protesting students into Harris Hall, where the lecture was being held, under the condition that they did not disrupt the presentation. Students then walked into the classroom but did not sit down, and shouted questions at Ms. Redbird about her decision to invite the ICE officer. The officer reportedly left the room soon after protesters stormed the hall.
Ms. Redbird dismissed the class roughly 15 minutes after it began, the student newspaper reported.
Northwestern President Morton Schapiro and Provost Daniel Linzer released a statement Wednesday condemning the protesters’ actions.
“We are deeply disappointed in the conduct of a group of students Tuesday that resulted in the disruption of a lecture in a Northwestern University class,” they said. “The behavior of our students in this incident was disrespectful, inappropriate and contrary to the values of the University.
“We recognize the need for robust discussion about difficult and at times, polarizing issues. Free expression must be protected and should be countered with more debate, close examination and critical thinking — not censorship,” they said. “Northwestern is carefully reviewing the facts around Tuesday’s events in order to determine the appropriate actions to be taken by the University.”
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