Administration bars students from Israeli-Palestinian panel event, students protest


Kiersten Riedford

Eugene Zdziarski, Vice President of Student Affairs, told The DePaulia via email that he did not allow some students into the Israeli-Palestinian panel on Monday, May 15, because they were either not registered in advance or their names were not on individual tickets.

Administration barred a mix of Palestinian students and others from entering the DePaul panel “Visualizing the Future of Isreali-Palestinian Relations: A Conversation with Dennis Ross and Ghaith al-Omari” at 5 p.m. on Monday, May 15.

Sources told The DePaulia that an administrator and some co-sponsors were in charge of admitting students into the event.

The event was co-sponsored by DePaul’s Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies, The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, the Department of Political Science and Metro Chicago Hillel — a national Jewish organization with student chapters. 

Hillel was not involved in a discussion of admitting or barring guests from attending the event, according to Rav Ezra Balser, Rabbi for the Base West Loop for Metro Chicago Hillel. David Wellman, director of DePaul’s The Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, said via email that he and other co-sponsors were not aware some students were excluded from the event but were made aware some students who did not register were not going to be let in.

The students who were not allowed into the event began to protest in The Theatre School at 6:30 p.m. when the event concluded, according to a Palestinian student, who was granted anonymity by The DePaulia.

On Friday, May 12, the Palestinian student was made aware of the panel.

The student, along with a few others, said they registered for the event using a link to an EventBrite page that was included in an event invitation email that was sent to one of the Palestinian student’s colleagues.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) posted a graphic on Instagram on May 15 condemning DePaul for not allowing students into an event discussing Israeli-Palestinian relations. (@SJP | Instagram)

One student registered for the event using an alias named Allison Dilaurentis to register for 10 tickets for the whole group. The students said they used an alias because they did not feel comfortable giving the university their real names.

The event was not listed on DeHUB so it could be accessible to the Chicago community, according to Eugene Zdziarski, vice president of Student Affairs. 

After registering, the student said they researched the two panelists, Ross – point man for the United States on the peace process in the Middle East in both the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations – and al-Omari – former executive director of the American Task Force in Palestine who advised the 1999–2001 permanent-status talks negotiating team within the Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian student said the main reason they and their group members wanted to attend the panel was to see what al-Omari would say and ask questions during the open discussion part of the event.

The next morning, they received an email saying the event location was changing, IDs would need to be checked and registration closed early.

On that Monday,the students were still set to attend.One student in the group showed up to the event earlier than the other nine students in their group. The event was scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.

When the student arrived, the Palestinian student said they told the staffer that their ticket was listed under Dilaurentis

The Palestinian student said they believe the student who arrived early is white-passing — when someone is a person of color but is perceived as white — and was allowed into the event after having their ID scanned and their name written down. According to the Palestinian student, who was not let into the event, the staffer said the group should make sure to register as individuals next time, but for now it was fine. 

A little while later, the rest of the group of students approached the staffer to check in. The Palestinian student said nine students were denied entry.

According to the Palestinian student, they said Zdziarski told the students they could not enter the event because their names were not on the individual tickets. He told them that they could join the Zoom link instead that they were given.

“I said, ‘Okay, I understand, [but] I have a friend who used the same ticket,” the Palestinian student said. “And [they] gave [their] ID, which showed that [the staffer] allowed [them] in, and Veep Gene said word for word: ‘Yeah, we let [them] in, but now I changed my mind, and we’re not letting anyone else in.’”

Zdziarski did not comment on saying this or changing his mind.

The post called out DePaul for hosting the event on the 75th anniversary of Nakba Day. The event was also hosted the day after Israel Independence Day, which is on May 14. (@SJP | Instagram)

Zdziarski told The DePaulia via email that standard practice for the majority of university events is to have individual attendees register in advance, and then provide proof of identification – whether that be a DePaul ID or driver’s license – prior to entering. 

Once check-in began, the university learned that there was an error in the registration system that gave attendees the option to request multiple tickets, Zdziarski said via email.

 Because of this, in consultation with co-sponsors of the event, the university decided only those individuals whose name appeared on the registration list would be admitted to the event, according to Zdziarski. All individuals who were not permitted to enter the event were given a Zoom link via email so they could participate in the event virtually.

“In [this] specific circumstance […] 10 tickets were all registered under the name – Allison Dilaurentis,” Zdziarski said via email. “No individual who attempted to access the event produced identification with this name. Further, there is no student enrolled at DePaul by this name. A Google search returns a fictional character from ‘Pretty Little Liars’ by this name.”

Fr. Guillermo “Memo” Campuzano, vice president of Mission and Ministry at DePaul, who spoke via email to The DePaulia on behalf of the entire division, said some people were not admitted into the event because their individual names were not on the list and some people did not register in advance in general. 

Campuzano said he did not hear Zdziarski say he changed his mind on letting some of the registered students into the event because Campuzano was inside of the event space, not the hall where the check-in was.

 “I am aware that in some cases he denied access to the event to people because they were not registered,” Campuzano said.

According to the Palestinian student, the admitted student said the event room was about half full with plenty of seating for those who wanted to attend in person. 

Estefania de la Torre, a fourth-year student at DePaul who attempted to attend the event alongside the Palestinian students and protested with them, said she still does not understand what the university was concerned about enough to deny the students entry.

“It felt discriminatory,” de la Torre said. “It wasn’t the students’ fault that one person was allowed to reserve multiple tickets. Telling us that we could get on Zoom while the doors to the event were right there felt so silly. I feel they did that in anticipation that we would take a stance during the event — but that’s our right as students.” 

Grace Siegelman, a Jewish DePaul student and co-president of Students Against Incarceration (SAI) — a group that stands in solidarity with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — said the way the university treats marginalized groups on campus does not surprise her anymore after being at DePaul for six years.

“We’re peeling back the woodwork of so much of DePaul history,” Siegelman said. “All this stuff is so crazy because it’s happening in real time. And then you put it all together and it makes sense that this is not a safe place for queer students, for disabled students, for trans students, for Palestinian students, Black students.”

After being told they could not enter the event, the admitted student went back into the event to listen to the panel while the other students gathered outside and planned to begin protest exactly when the event ended at 6:30 p.m. 

The students were protesting not being allowed to enter the event and having al-Omari speak on their behalf even though he misrepresents the Palestinian narrative, according to the Palestinian student.

Another reason  students protested the event was because it was on the 75th anniversary of Nakba Day. The previous day, May 14, was the 75th anniversary of Israel Independence Day.

Nakba, translating to “catastrophe” in Arabic, Day took place on May 15, 1948. At least 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly removed from their homes during the creation of Israel.

At 6:30 p.m., a Palestinian student pulled out a megaphone and began chanting “Free, Free Palestine!” The voices of Palestinian students and students standing in solidarity with them echoed through the halls of TTS as they yelled out “Shame on you, DePaul!” 

Within seconds, Zdziarski was ushering the students toward the doors of the building, mainly the student using the megaphone, telling them they were breaking university policy by making too much noise, according to the Palestinian student and many other witnesses. 

According to the protest guidelines for the DePaul community, “all demonstrations and other similar events on or adjacent to campus must be orderly and peaceful. Such events may not impede passage, may not create excessive noise, or may not interfere with the business operations of the university.”

Zdziarski emphasized that the students gathering outside the event was not a violation of university policy, but the use of a megaphone and loud chants inside the building was a violation of university protesting policy. He said the protest caused attendees to be unable to hear the speakers and it was disrupting classes in the building. 

“I recognize that the students were frustrated and angry with me for attempting to move their protest,” Zdziarski said via email. “There are a variety of methods for members of the campus community to exercise their right to peaceful protest, without preventing others from exercising their right to participate in such speakers or events.”

He said via email that he repeatedly attempted to communicate to the group of students that they were violating university policies and because of the continued disruption, he requested that they exit the building.

Siegelman said DePaul needs to take accountability for not letting students into the event and for hosting the event on Nakba Day. She said the timing of this event was discriminatory.

Though the Palestinian students said the protest was peaceful, Balser said, reflecting on his in-person experience at the event, that the protestors were “aggressive” toward event attendees who were leaving.

Some of our students and staff were the target of hateful shouting on their way out of the event,” Balser said. “‘How many babies did you kill today?’ ‘I hope you die!’ These were the messages they heard. This was especially sad because they were leaving an event focused on peace and dialogue and understanding.

Emily Lightman, a Jewish DePaul student and senior, said she did not attend the protest, but she was upset to hear what protesters yelled insults at the attendees. 

“People were going to this event to learn and to listen,” Lightman said. “It’s making some really dangerous assumptions. Genuinely, it’s nauseating.”

Now, after the event and protest, many Palestinian students want change on DePaul’s campus, but the Palestinian student said they know they will not see it.

They said all they want to see is marginalized groups being properly represented at DePaul University.

“As a student, I should not feel unsafe to share my name or to register to an event or to go to an event,” the Palestinian student said. “I want to see marginalized groups being properly supported. I want to see them feel safe and welcome on DePaul’s campus. I don’t want to look [at DePaul] 10 years from now and see that the same issue continuously happens.”

Lightman said that she too feels that Jewish students don’t always feel safe on campus.

“I’ll be perfectly honest, every day I wake up and I’m exploring what Israel means to me what being Jewish means to me,” Lightman said. “It’s just a constant internal battle. And to not even be able to feel safe to have [these] conversations out loud is so, so frustrating.”

In the future, events hosted by DePaul on such “heavy, complicated political issues” should be better advertised, especially to the communities it impacts, according to de la Torre. 

“[The university] must strive for a representative sample of voices,” de la Torre said. “Not being considerate to the DePaul Palestinian community in organizing such an event is not right. Not providing a representative sample of voices on the issue is not right.”

Maximillian Scholz, a student at DePaul who attended the event, said he believes there needs to be more conversations at DePaul to amplify Palestinian and Jewish voices on campus.

“If we believe in this dichotomy, then that means that all Jewish students must be Zionists and that all Palestinian students must want the eradication of Israel,” Scholz said. “I think that dialogue is extremely important [to get rid of this dichotomy] and however the university can facilitate that is of the utmost importance.”