Amid Ongoing Campus Protests, Northwestern Students Discuss the Line Between Free Speech and Safety

College students across the country — including many in the Chicago area — are pitching tents on campuses and rallying in support of Palestinians amid the ongoing war in Gaza, which began nearly seven months ago when Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Students’ demonstrations have led to concerns over free speech and safety on college campuses.

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Northwestern University on Monday announced an agreement allowing peaceful demonstrations to continue through the spring semester. The university said the agreement provides a sustainable path forward; others said that’s not the case.

Paz Baum is a student with the university’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, which is part of the Northwestern University Divestment Coalition. She said the coalition is proud of the deal it negotiated.

“The fact that the university is now legally bound to disclosing their financial investments mean that we can push towards divestment,” Baum said. “The other terms of the agreement allow for support of Muslim, Palestinian, Jewish students on campus. And that means that the university is now invested in their students, in students of all backgrounds and all religions.”

The agreement will allow protests to continue on Deering Meadow until June 1 with one aid tent — but limit demonstrators to university community members. All other tents must be removed.

Sari Eisen is a student at Northwestern University and president of Northwestern Hillel.

“For the most part, there are a lot of points on the agreement that I support, that the Hillel community supports as a whole,” Eisen said. “… We were also pretty disappointed to see that acts of blatant antisemitism, the chants, the signs, all of that, was not specifically addressed in the agreement. We have been voicing our concerns about antisemitism on campus since Oct. 7.”

Eisen added that the group was disappointed members’ voices were not included in negotiations with the university.

In response to the agreement, the Anti-Defamation League and other groups released a statement calling for the resignation of Northwestern University President Michael Schill, saying he normalized “hatred against Jewish students.”

Student protests over the Israel-Hamas war have popped up at many college campuses after being inspired by demonstrators at Columbia University. The students are calling for universities to separate themselves from companies advancing Israel’s military efforts in Gaza and in some cases from Israel itself.

As May commencement ceremonies near, administrators face added pressure to clear protesters.

More than 1,000 protesters have been arrested over the last two weeks on campuses in states including Texas, Utah, Virginia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Connecticut, Louisiana, California and New Jersey, some after confrontations with police in riot gear.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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