By Mira Soni
Northwestern University’s faculty senate issued a statement last week in defense of academic freedom and academic free speech in response to protests last month when an ICE official was invited to speak to a class.
On Tuesday, May 16th, Northwestern professor Beth Redbird invited an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer to speak to her Sociology 201 class. Six student groups, including members of the Immigrant Justice Project and MECha de Northwestern (Movimiento Estudiantil Chican of Northwestern), protested in front of the building where the class was being held.
Hoping to invite an open dialogue, Professor Redbird invited the demonstrators into the classroom. According to The Daily Northwestern, the events did not transpire as Redbird intended.
Students…walked into the classroom but did not sit down, instead holding up banners and asking Redbird why she invited the ICE representative and if she had considered the possible effect the visit may have on undocumented students or students who know someone who has been detained by the federal agency.
The ICE representative left shortly after the students entered the classroom.
The student groups protesting felt that the presence of an ICE representative on campus was harmful to undocumented students or students with loved ones who had been deported. In an interview with the Daily Northwestern, sophomore Sofia Navarro said the representative was not welcome on campus.
“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 said. “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 Faculty Senate’s statement on June 1st encouraged students to engage in discourse with people who hold diverse opinions.
“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.”