Student protesters reach a deal with Northwestern University that sparks criticism from all sides

CHICAGO– For five days, Northwestern University’s Deering Meadow echoed with the screams of student protesters and supporters participating in demonstrations against the war between Israel and Hamas on college campuses nationwide.

But the grassy meadow on Northwestern’s campus in suburban Chicago was quiet Tuesday morning after student organizers and the school announced a deal late Monday to curb protest activity — in exchange for a new advisory committee on university investments and other commitments .

Two vacant tents remained on campus Tuesday, surrounded by abandoned folding chairs, cases of bottled water and other supplies.

Some protesting the war in Gaza condemned the deal as a failure to adhere to the original demands of student organizers. Some Israel supporters said the deal represented a “cowardly” capitulation to protesters.

The harsh response and escalated protests elsewhere Tuesday suggest the Northwestern agreement is unlikely to lead to similar deals, even if it could quickly bring protest activity in Evanston to a standstill.

The agreement allows protests to continue until June 1, but excludes all tents except one for relief supplies. It also prevents people without ties to Northwestern from participating and requires permission from the school to use loudspeakers or similar devices, according to copies made public by the school and student organizers.

Northwestern’s statement said it would enforce the deal, including possible penalties for students who didn’t follow the rules, such as suspension.

“This agreement represents a sustainable and de-escalated path forward, improving the safety of all members of the Northwestern community while providing a space for free expression that complies with the University’s rules and policies,” said a statement attributed to President Michael Schill, Provost Kathleen. Hagerty and Vice President for Student Affairs Susan Davis.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League Midwest were among the Northwestern administrators’ critics, arguing that the deal “succumbed to the demands of a mob” and did little to make Jewish students on campus feel safer to feel.

Across the country, protest organizers from American universities say they are building a peaceful movement aimed at defending Palestinian rights and protesting the war.

One of the many groups that planned the anti-war protests at Northwestern was Jewish Voice for Peace.

In Instagram posts about the deal, protest organizers said the reinstatement of an advisory committee is a first step toward divestment — an original demand that the school stop investing in all companies profiting from the war.

University representatives did not immediately respond Tuesday to messages seeking more information about the role of the advisory committee or the history of a similar body at Northwestern. The agreement stated it would include students, faculty and staff.

The protest organizers also noted Northwestern’s commitment to build a house for Muslim student activities and raise money for scholarships for Palestinian students.

But organizers appeared to expect disappointment, saying they see the deal as just a start and will continue to put pressure on administrators.

“We have seen incredible momentum grow in support of our movement in recent days and we will not let it go to waste,” said a post on the NU Divestment Coalition Instagram. “We see this as an excellent time to take stock, recharge, plan and build energy. But we still have a lot of work to do and we won’t stop now.”

Eden Melles, a graduate student among Northwestern protest organizers, said Tuesday that the reinstatement of an advisory committee is “huge,” but she also understands the criticism of the agreement.

“We are not going to let up on the pressure on Northwestern because there are people on this campus who feel unsafe, have felt unsafe for years, and disclosure is not going to make them feel safe,” Melles said. “That is not going to solve the problems that this university has cultivated.”

She said organizers on each campus should make their own decisions when negotiating with administrators, and not follow an exact model created by another school.

Brown University on Tuesday became the second school to announce a deal to end student protests.

Administrators and student organizers at the campus protest in Providence, Rhode Island, said President Christina Paxson had committed to having the school’s board of trustees vote on the students’ divestment proposal in October. Protest organizers said they would end the demonstrations by the end of Tuesday.

The pro-Palestinian tent camps began spreading across the country following a crackdown on a Columbia university, when police arrested more than a hundred protesters on April 18. On Tuesday evening, Columbia called police again to clear demonstrators who had occupied a campus building.

University administrations across the country have used different strategies in response to the protests. In some places, police have arrested dozens of people, while elsewhere campus leaders have tried to negotiate protest strategies while still allowing them to continue.

In Baltimore, leaders at Johns Hopkins University announced Tuesday morning that they had reached an agreement with student protesters who began setting up an encampment Monday evening. After several hours of discussion, they said, the students agreed to vacate the camp and resume the protest only during the day.

“Our discussions were candid and constructive,” university President Ron Daniels and Provost Ray Jayawardhana wrote in a message to the school community. “We are extremely relieved by this peaceful and productive resolution.”

But protesters from the group Hopkins Justice Collective released statements saying their demonstration would continue all night and would not end “until demands are met.”

“We will not let Johns Hopkins close our camp,” they wrote in a social media post. “We’re still here.”


Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder and reporter Lea Skene in Baltimore contributed.