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Northwestern Protesters Shut Down Classroom Visit From ICE Employee

By Emma G. Gallegos in News on May 19, 2017 7:49PM

Harris Hall where the ICE rep was hosted at Northwestern (Google Maps)

Students at Northwestern held a protest Tuesday that shut down a visit from a public relations representative from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Prof. Beth Redbird hosted an ICE representative on Tuesday for her Sociology 201 class "Social Inequality: Race, Class, & Power." Redbird invited protesters into the classroom to engage in dialogue, but the "disruptive" behavior of a few of them prompted the representative to leave. Redbird said that once the rep left, many protesters and students stayed behind to engage in what she considered a "productive" dialogue on public policy and free speech, she said in an email to Chicagoist.

Redbird clarified that these representatives did not have arrest powers and that she made attendance that day optional. She told Chicagoist, "The purpose of the visit was to allow my students to ask questions about the structure of these agencies and the realities of immigration enforcement."

A rep from the Executive Office for Immigration Review from the Department of Justice was also scheduled to speak that day, but that was canceled as well. Redbird also canceled a planned visit from an undocumented immigrant planned for Thursday, because she felt like she could no longer assure him his privacy.

Protesters raised banners and chanted outside the Hall. Here's a photo of protesters from outside:

Protesters said even the presence of an ICE officer on campus legitimized the organization and could be disturbing or harmful. April Navarro, a MEChA member who helped organize the protest, told The Northwestern Daily she didn't see the good of hosting a "good, nice conversation" with an organization that tears families apart. ICE has recently ramped up its efforts in Chicago and across the country to detain undocumented immigrants, Though Donald Trump promised he'd only be targeting "bad hombres" those with no criminal records or very minor offenses have been swept up in the raids as well.

"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," Navarro told The Daily. "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."

Redbird said she was hoping that her students could learn about the structure of ICE and how it operates—even if they are opposed to the agency and its methods.

"I strongly believe that my students are best served by an open dialogue and exposure to opposing viewpoints, and I will continue to look for ways to give my students the tools they need to engage with their world," Redbird wrote in an email to Chicagoist. "In our society, knowledge is power, and I want to see my students as powerful as possible."

One of Redbird's students Nefertari Bilal told The Daily that she felt like the methods of the protest shut down any chance at dialogue.

"We wanted ICE to come," Bilal said. "There was a general consensus. We wanted to have the opportunity to see how they present themselves, who does their outreach work, how do they try to convince people to follow their point of view and to challenge them on … what they were saying."

The Northwestern administration released a statement saying they were "deeply disappointed" in the behavior of protesters:

At Northwestern, our faculty members are free to encourage academic discussions within their classrooms, including inviting speakers of their choice. 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.

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.

The student coalition wasn't happy with that response, and they told The Daily, "The university statement ignores the trauma of undocumented and racialized peoples and perpetuates violence cloaked in the distracting and irrelevant rhetoric of 'academic freedom of speech.'"

The incident was picked up by right-wing media, which has taken up the mantle of free speech when provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter are shut down by protesters at left-leaning campus.

"The protesters were making an unsafe environment for the students, for the professor, for the guest," Sammy Cuautle, a member of Northwestern College Republicans, told "Fox & Friends." He added, "This is a very troubling trend around the whole country where universities are becoming less safe for freedom of speech and less safe for expression and different ideas which is really, really disappointing."