Ongoing campus tension spills over into protests

Milo Yiannopoulos and DePaul students walk across campus after Yiannopoulos left his event when protestors interrupted Tuesday. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)
Milo Yiannopoulos and DePaul students walk across campus after Yiannopoulos left his event when protestors interrupted Tuesday. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]om Ring grew up in Madison, Georgia, a rural town with a population just under 4,000. Ring, a freshman, moved to Chicago in part to get away from the deep south. Throughout his life, Ring said he saw members of the Ku Klux Klan handing out flyers and even had a friend of Indian heritage targeted by the Klan, who left stones and bricks in front of house with notes of intimidation on them.

And so when Ring heard the report of a noose found on campus, it struck a nerve.

He went to Facebook and posted a message that condemned the act, writing that the campus was unified and telling whoever dropped it to “get the hell out.” The post garnered 443 likes and was shared 33 times.

“When I came to college, I was naive that I could escape racism,” Ring said about his post. “It was definitely some level of disappointment for DePaul, that DePaul had let me down. I kind of realized that racism is everywhere.”

The reports of a noose being found is just one of the many developments since last Tuesday when protests erupted on campus from the visit of the controversial conservative speaker Milo Yiannopoulos, shutting down the Student Center and creating a charged atmosphere that left many students feeling unsafe.

But while opinions of the event are sharply divided, many are upset with the university’s perceived lack of action — ranging from Public Safety’s reaction to the tone of the Yiannopoulos event to an apology issued to the College Republicans from DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, C.M., to its response to the situation.

After rushing on stage, DePaul alum Ed Ward refuses to leave. Milo Yiannopoulos (left) eventually led the crowd out of after many were upset about security not intervening. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)
After rushing on stage, DePaul alum Ed Ward refuses to leave. Milo Yiannopoulos (left) eventually led the crowd out of after many were upset about security not intervening. (Josh Leff / The DePaulia)

How the event lost control

Yiannopoulos’ visit was no surprise. College Republicans began soliciting donations through GoFundMe for the event in April and soon after created an event page on Facebook for people to RSVP for people to hear Yiannopoulos speak at the Student Center. And according to Nicole Been, president of College Republicans, planning for the event was months in the making.

The plan called for College Republicans member John Minster to interview Yiannopoulos for about 20 to 30 minutes and then open the floor for audience questions the remaining hour. But this was not to be, as Yiannopoulos was interrupted by DePaul alumnus Edward Ward and other student protesters inside the event.

“We had three tiers of people (ready to respond) that when something would happen: first it would go to one-tier, which was us I believe, then it would go to administrators, then it would eventually go to security,” Minster said. “And the third tier, if it got there, would be to remove people. So, in this case, when we had people threatening to assault Milo, we had people stalking the stage, we had people taking the mic from me, when we had that type of thing happening, that breached tier three immediately.”

University administrators told Been to announce that the Chicago Police Department (CPD) had been called and that anyone on the stage besides Minster and Yiannopoulos would be arrested.

But Been, other members of College Republicans and attendees are upset that Public Safety chose not to intervene.

“I put more fault on the university beause they easily could have prevented it,” Been said. “They knew this protest was happening. Arrests could have easily been made and the event could have gone on, but they didn’t want to do that for whatever reason.”

Director of Public Safety Bob Wachowski said that Public Safety’s goal was the preservation of peace.

“You must have witnessed and felt the same tension we did,” Wachowski said in an email. “Our goal was not to have protesters arrested, or any others who may have been stirring things up, though we were prepared to sign complaints and have Chicago Police make arrests.

“Our goal was to preserve the peace, in other words, do all we could to prevent a melee, a riot, serious injuries or worse. We were using our professional judgment in consultation with Student Affairs to determine our action.”

Been, in particular, said that they were upset because of a last minute quibble between her group and university officials. Been said three or four days before the event that her group received emails from the Office of Student Involvement (OSI) that required 20 contracted security guards for the event when the two groups agreed upon nine.

After negotiating, College Republicans and the OSI agreed upon 15 security guards, but the additional cost of the extra security was $840. Yiannopoulos said that he was going to cover the cost, but Vice President of Facility Operations Bob Janis said that no one had yet to be invoiced for the event.

Because the event was canceled for safety reasons, the university will pick up the cost of security, according to Gene Zdziarski, the vice president for Student Affairs. University officials also said once Yiannopoulos and his supporters chose to leave, the event officially ended and the decision to close the Student Center was made as another safety measure.

As for why police did not intervene, Wachowski said that when CPD is called, Public Safety has the authority to request if arrests are made or not. When Police arrived, they entered the Student Center and the crowd chanted “CPD,” waiting for action. The police, however, remained still, further inciting the crowd.

It was Public Safety’s decision to not step in and remove protesters.

“Please understand that this was a campus event, on campus property, and the responsibility for security was under Public Safety, Facility Operations and Student Affairs. CPD was standing by to make arrests if we needed them to,” Wachowski said. “We had several strategies in place and as the scene unfolded, Public Safety and Student Affairs used professional judgement to act accordingly.”

With weeks to plan a counter response, opponents of the Yiannopoulos event petitioned the university to cancel the event. This effort wasn’t successful despite receiving nearly 500 signatures. Because the event was permitted by the university, anti-Milo students decided to organize a demonstration in the Quad.

This peaceful demonstration would turn rowdy and chaotic, eventually leading to the scene outside the event in the Student Center and later once again in the Quad.

Protest organizer Tom Rietz said it was important to create an outlet for students to express their opinions on the event, which was attended by around 100-150 people.

“A lot of people had been telling me, ‘oh, 30 people are going to come’, ‘it’s not going to be a big thing’,” Rietz said. “But other people were kind of wary about what was going on, especially with the events leading up to it with the petition and some of the promoting the Republicans did and their reaction to that.”

The plan called for students to assemble in a “peace circle” in the middle of the Quad. There, according to Rietz, introductions would be made, speeches would be given, posters would be built and organizers would explain why they were protesting the event.

The plan was for students to eventually march from the Quad to the Monsignor John J. Egan statue outside the Student Center, where more words would be shared and the protest would eventually disperse. Yet several protesters asked organizers to march earlier than planned in order to be in front of the Student Center when the Yiannopoulos event started. Rietz and other organizers agreed.

“I knew there was going to be a lot of different opinions on how to react and I tried to include as many as I could into the event I had planned,” Rietz said. “But, obviously, people kind of took it upon themselves to do more. And the moment where my event ended and the disorganization began was when people entered the Student Center.”

The atmosphere prior to entering the building was charged as several students were provoked by a conservative journalist from the website – who mocked “safe spaces,” among other things – and was eventually arrested.

Contrary to Rietz’s initial plan, protesters entered the Student Center and chanted outside the doors of the event. Once Ward and others inside the event took the stage and interrupted, Yiannopoulos led his supporters outside, convening with Rietz’s group.

This, along with the sheer mass of the crowd, made it difficult to control.

“A lot more people came and a lot more people were riled up,” Rietz said.

Rietz criticized the university administration and student leaders for not promoting student discussion on the topic sooner.

“I think it’s obvious that the intentions that I had didn’t meet up with the expectation and the implications later,” Rietz said. “ And I admit that and I take full responsibility for that.”

“There’s so much more involved than just the organization of the protest itself that factored into this,” he said. “It’s emotions, it’s a political environment in an election year that’s very, very contentious, and I think that when you combine that on top of a student body that doesn’t feel like it’s being listened to, then you get outbursts and people acting out and it’s not a healthy campus environment in some ways.”

Protesters march toward the Student Center Tuesday. (Kirsten Onsgard / The DePaulia)
Protesters march toward the Student Center Tuesday. (Kirsten Onsgard / The DePaulia)

Where DePaul goes from here

In his letter addressed to the student body Wednesday, Holtschneider said DePaul had some “reflecting and sorting out to do.” At the time of his email, Holtschneider was in France with members from the Board of Trustees. 

“Student Affairs will be inviting the organizers of both the event and the protest — as well as any others who wish — to meet with them for this purpose,” Holtschneider said. “I’ve asked them to reflect on how future events should be staffed so that they proceed without interruption; how protests are to be more effectively assisted and enabled; and how the underlying differences around race, gender and orientation that were made evident in yesterday’s events can be explored in depth in the coming academic year.”

Holtschneider also apologized to the College Republicans because “they deserved an opportunity to hear their speaker, and were denied it.” 

While Been said she accepted Holtschneider’s apology, she said she was skeptical in the potential change that could come from Holtschneider’s letter. She and her fellow Republicans seemed surprised at the proposed meeting as well.

“We aren’t being forced into this meeting, but we never asked for it either,” Been said. “As far as I’m concerned, Black Lives Matter isn’t a registered student organization and we are. So to say that, us, we’re going to be forced into this meeting or whatever, was just a little concerning and strange to me, making it seem like there’s discourse and dialogue that’s going on, but there really isn’t.”

Ward said he would be open to meeting with Holtschneider with his fellow protesters in the next two weeks.

“There are lists of demands that people may have,” Ward said. “I’ll leave that at the discretion of the group.”

He said he’d be open to meeting with College Republicans as well, as long as someone from the university was there too.

“A lot of people get this confused, this is not a battle between two groups,” Ward said. “We are disappointed in the university … for allowing someone who openly bullied students on DePaul’s campus and to have a platform to speak, someone who is obviously inciting not intellectual thought, but hatred and essentially violence.”

Rietz said he felt like Holtschneider’s email didn’t address why protesters were protesting in the first place, and that there was violence on both sides.

“I’d also like to see an emphasis in the top-down sense from the university to facilitate a community dialogue, and maybe do it in a very public place where students can talk it out,” Rietz said. “It’d not only be a space for people not only to say what they’re thinking, but to be listening too. I think if the university can provide a space where students feel listened to, where their grievances are taken into account. I think that’ll be a step forward.”

Other groups on campus also criticized the university’s responses to the event. On Friday, the campus group Feminist Front called for Holtschneider’s resignation.

“You have shown us that you do not support marginalized communities and that instead of eradicating institutional violence on our campus you continue to encourage it,” a statement from the group said. “We demand that you immediately resign, apologize to the marginalized students you neglect, and admit your wrongdoings and complicity in this systemic, institutional violence.”

Charia McDonald speaks to students gathered in the quad during a rally countering Milo Yiannopoulos' speech at DePaul. (Kirsten Onsgard / The DePaulia)
Charia McDonald speaks to students gathered in the quad during a rally countering Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at DePaul. (Kirsten Onsgard / The DePaulia)

DePaul Democrats also hinted at a leadership change, saying that if Holtschneider fails to act that “it will become very clear that he is unable to stem the tide of hatred and bigotry that is rapidly engulfing our campus.” Groups like Black Student Union and the Women and Gender Studies program also rejected the letter.

On DePaul’s end, the university said in an email Saturday that they will “share remedies” for the upcoming week. In the meantime, Zdziarski and provost Marten denBoer said that there are additional Public Safety patrols on campus grounds and an escort service has been expanded to 24 hours for those feeling unsafe.

For senior Kiara Farmer, she said she has felt unsafe at DePaul in recent months and wishes the university would have done more in its response to pro-Trump chalkings on campus in April.

“More needs to be done so I can feel safe and to feel as an alumni, I can encourage more people to be here,” Farmer said Tuesday. “Before I was a freshman, people told me DePaul is a safe place and that they really cared about their students. Right now, I don’t feel like DePaul is safe and that it cares about its students.”

The email also said that Student Affairs staff would be more visible and that information tables will be set up in the Lincoln Park and Loop campuses from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

“The goal is to be actively accessible to students with questions, concerns or feedback,” the email said.

However, staff in the Student Center were told to stay quiet on the issue when working in an email sent to the student employees.

“From this point forward, there is to be no discussion or commentary about Tuesday’s Milo Yiannopoulos event while you are at work,” the email said.  “This includes discussions with co-workers, others in the building, other students, reporters, etc). You are free to comment or discuss from your viewpoint as a student, on your personal time when not working, but may not discuss anything while you are at work.”

“While you are working, and wearing a DePaul Student Center polo or fleece, you represent the Student Center and DePaul University as a whole; and anything you say could be misconstrued as an ‘official’ comment from DePaul University or the Student Center,” the email said.  “Controversial events like this have many viewpoints, and many people looking to propagate information; and a seemingly innocent comment that is taken in the wrong way could have unintended and possibly disastrous consequences for you, your supervisors, and the Student Centers department.”

The university said it is still investigating the “volatile” events of Tuesday, online and phone harassment of students, faculty and staff, profane leaflets found in Arts and Letters Hall and the noose found on campus.

Until an investigation is revealed, many are waiting to hear the fallout from Tuesday’s events.

“I think people are just tired and want to move past this,” Ring said. “They feel like this is an embarrassing moment for them and their school, and I feel like that too. I feel like our school could have done much better handling the situation.”