‘It feels really sad’: DePaul encampment last one standing in city

Two protestors wrap their arms around each other as counter-protestors rally on Fullerton Ave on Sunday, May 5, 2024. This is the second counter-protest the encampment has encountered.
Two protestors wrap their arms around each other as counter-protestors rally on Fullerton Ave on Sunday, May 5, 2024. This is the second counter-protest the encampment has encountered.
Jake Cox

DePaul University’s encampment stands alone as the city’s final remaining site, marking a somber milestone for pro-Palestinian activists across Chicago.

The “Gaza Solidarity Encampment,” established last Tuesday by the DePaul Divestment Coalition and Students for Justice in Palestine, is determined to remain on the university’s Quad until its demands are met, according to organizers. Primary among these demands is that DePaul disclose investments and divest from companies with ties to Israel.

The milestone follows the clearing of the student encampment by the University of Chicago’s campus police at 5 a.m. May 7. According to The Chicago Maroon, less than an hour after encampment organizers finished their final rally of the evening, several dozen UCPD officers arrived at the site to dismantle the pro-Palestine encampment on its ninth day. 

No arrests were made, but encampment members received slips of paper instructing them to depart immediately. The note warned that failure to comply would result in arrest for criminal trespass under the Illinois Criminal Code.

About 11 miles north of the University of Chicago, Henna Ayesh, a sophomore and media liaison for the DePaul encampment, shared mixed emotions about the news.

“Honestly, you would think it would feel good, but it feels really sad,” Ayesh said. “… We’ve obviously worked with a lot of other organizers at other schools, a lot of them actually helped us put ours together.”

According to Ayesh, organizers of DePaul’s encampment have anticipated the possibility of a police raid or arrests. She said that in any scenario, demonstrators want to embody what she calls the “resilience and resistance” of the Palestinian people. 

“So far, (university officials) haven’t given us any indication that they want to shut down our encampment,” Ayesh said. “I think if they did call police, it would look bad on them.”

DePaul University did not respond to The DePaulia’s multiple requests for comment at the time of publication.

Despite the University of Chicago developments, Ayesh emphasized that the primary concern for encampment organizers remains President Robert Manuel’s May 6 email addressing the DePaul Divestment Coalition’s demands.

Within the email, Manuel said the administration hopes the DePaul community recognizes the “deliberation, thought and care invested” in responding to the Coalition’s requirements to end the encampment.

Out of the Coalition’s 10 updated demands, the university accepted two, including calling for a cease-fire and opposing the doxing of “Palestinian students and their allies.” 

Manuel firmly rejected the coalition’s demand to “remove individuals with ties to Israel from the Board of Trustees,” stating it conflicted with DePaul’s Vincentian values.

 

Chicago Police stand outside the Quad between protestors in the encampment and counter-protestors on Sunday, May 5, 2024, in Lincoln Park. There were only two minor injuries that occurred on Sunday. (Rose O’Keeffe)

Furthermore, Manuel said the university would not grant “blanket amnesty” to all encampment participants. He pointed out that recent protests have resulted in misleading accusations about DePaul’s endowment, particularly concerning demands for divestment from companies profiting from Palestinian suffering and the occupation and disclosure of investments.

Although the university does not make direct investments in stocks and bonds, instead putting money into funds managed by outside experts, Manuel said DePaul ensures that these managers follow responsible investing guidelines set by the United Nations. 

“As such, there is a comprehensive commitment to reviewing their investment practices and related portfolios across a variety of factors including environmental, social and corporate governance issues, among others,” the email said.

Despite not being responsible for the university’s investments, Manuel said he wants to involve the DePaul community in the conversation about where funds are directed and to provide “input to our Board of Trustees around concerns of the community.”

He also indicated that the university is considering establishing an advisory committee to address important concerns from all constituencies within the university community.

“It is important to note that we are establishing this advisory committee because we believe it is a thoughtful measure, consistent with shared governance,” the email said. “Further, though our endowment investment practices do not drive direct investments currently, the intent of this advisory committee is not to divest from Israel.” 

Encampment media liaison and DePaul student Ayah Shaw said SJP and the DePaul Divestment Coalition do not believe the narrative that DePaul has no choice on where its endowment goes. 

“I think that statement is total BS,” she said. “I think DePaul has more than enough say on where their money goes. It’s the money that we are paying them.” 

John Paul Lederach, a professor of International Peacebuilding at the University of Notre Dame, suggests that the current stalemate between encampment organizers and the administration reflects a lack of confidence between the two parties.

“If you have a fundamental distrust of who is controlling the (negotiation) process, or that it’s not well-defined or that it is being manipulated, that then creates a lot of difficulty for people feeling that they can trust what the outcomes might eventually be,” Lederach said. 

Additionally, he said that the absence of a clear leader within the encampment could further complicate efforts to establish common ground between organizers and the university, given the diverse range of perspectives and goals among the individuals involved.

Although encampment organizers are steadfast in their decision to remain on the Quad until their demands are met, Lederach remains optimistic that a resolution without violence is achievable.

“Violence is the choice where a person can imagine no other option,” Lederach said. “The real key is that we’re asking the question: How do we protect the dignity and the rights of people to express themselves and at the same time, diminish and eliminate evermore the chances that that translates into violence.”

Steven Resnicoff, professor in the College of Law and Director of its Center for Jewish Law and Judaic Studies, said the coalition’s demand to divest from Israel would “constitute illegal discrimination.” The repercussions of the demand for financial divestment are not the only ones he is worried about. 

“By calling for a boycott of activities with Israeli academics and academic institutions, the encampment essentially also calls for an isolationist and discriminatory ‘intellectual divestment’ that would impoverish all of the faculty and students at DePaul,” Resnicoff said. 

Resnicoff, who is an expert in the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement Against Israel, said divesting is not realistic and should not be further negotiated by the university engagement team and the coalition. 

“The demand is unjust, unfair, impractical, and, as to (a) number of aspects, illegal,” Resnicoff said. “Incidentally, many Israeli companies have been responsible not only for major technological innovations that have made life easier and happier, but also for major health care advancements that have saved lives.”

Despite the complexities of the endowment and the challenges of DePaul using third-party financial managers to invest funds, according to Resnicoff, encampment organizers remain firm in pressing for the administration to address their demands.

“As long as they’ll keep listening to us, we’ll keep having these communications with them,” Shaw said.

However, she said that pro-Palestinian protesters are prepared to wait if the university declines to divest or address additional demands.

“If the university thinks they can wait us out, I promise we can wait longer,” Shaw said.

 

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