Farewell free speech: Northwestern students shut down talk by ICE PR spokesman

Earlier this week, progressive students at Northwestern University shut down a scheduled talk by an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) PR person. The ICE spokesman had been invited to campus by Professor Beth Redbird, a sociology professor teaching a class on “inequality in American society.” From the Daily Northwestern:

The class began at 3:30 p.m., around the time when student demonstrators entered Harris Hall, holding banners and chanting “F—k ICE” outside the classroom. Protesting students were told by University administrators at the scene, including dean of students Todd Adams, that they would be allowed into Redbird’s class if they did not disrupt the presentation.

Students then 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 PR person left the room almost immediately and fifteen minutes after the class started, the professor canceled it. Some of the protesters left, having achieved their purpose but others remained to demand the professor explain why she had invited ICE in the first place.

SESP sophomore April Navarro, a MEChA member who helped organize the protest, told The Daily though having the representative on campus might have come from the idea of having a “good, nice conversation with ICE,” the agency and its representatives shouldn’t come to NU because they “terrorize communities” and profit from detainee labor.

“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.

Another MEChA protester helpfully explained the danger such unfettered speech presents. “There are people who would be listening to this ICE representative and agreeing with them and maybe one day becoming an ICE agent or co-signing and supporting them and that in itself is violence,” Danielle Douge told the Daily Northwestern.

Allowing people to hear other views and make up their own minds is definitely the last thing we can allow on a college campus. No, it’s much better for everyone if a mob of “woke” students decides who can and cannot speak by shouting down those they disagree with. What could possibly go wrong with such a system?

The President of Northwestern, who is himself a fan of “safe spaces,” posted a statement expressing his disappointment in the protester’s behavior:

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. The behavior of our students in this incident was disrespectful, inappropriate and contrary to the values of the University.

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.

The statement concludes by saying the University is reviewing the incident to decide if any further action will be taken. But given President Schapiro’s outlook on free speech, I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for disciplinary action.

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David Strom 10:41 AM on February 02, 2023