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University of Chicago students, faculty members and their supporters protest and march around the South Side campus.

University of Chicago students, faculty members and their supporters protest and march around the South Side campus on Friday.

Ashlee Rezin

Hundreds joined pro-Palestinian protests at Chicago universities

Students and faculty from several Chicago colleges and universities held pro-Palestinian protests Friday in an effort to show solidarity with demonstrations that have been roiling campuses across the country, including in downstate Urbana-Champaign.

Hundreds of demonstrators from the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Columbia College Chicago and Roosevelt University marched, chanted and held up signs supporting Palestinians living in Gaza.

The rallies come a day after protesters formed an encampment on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus and spent the night outside. They echoed demands of protesters nationwide that universities should disclose — and unload — any investments in companies doing business with Israel or manufacturing weapons.

In downtown Chicago, protesters managed to overtake the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street, near the Art Institute, around 1 p.m. Friday. Traffic had stopped in both directions. After a tense confrontation with police, the group was pushed into Millennium Park.

Rhoda Rosen, an adjunct professor at the School of The Art Institute, who is Jewish and South African, expressed her support for the protesters and their demands — she knows from experience, she said, the power of divestment.

“We support your vision of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and we believe that’s it’s achievable, a vision that imagines what it would be like to be a part of a community that divests from those funds that support the destruction of Palestinian culture,” Rosen told the crowd Friday. “Know that calls for divestment from U.S. companies profiting from South African apartheid had a huge impact in South Africa.”

Officials with the School of the Art Institute did not respond to requests for comment.

Things got more heated at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign Friday. There, protesters attempted to set up tents and clashed with police Friday. There was one arrest.

Although police at Northwestern said they would arrest protesters who remained in the encampment after the school hastily banned tents Thursday, no arrests had been made as of Friday evening. Protesters said they planned to maintain the encampment indefinitely.

Students and faculty members from colleges across Chicago take to Michigan Avenue to protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Students and faculty members from colleges across Chicago take to Michigan Avenue to protest in support of Palestinians in Gaza on Friday.

Jim Vondruska

Ashley Bohrer, a Notre Dame professor who lives in Lincoln Park, said she has been “really inspired by what the Northwestern University students are doing. I’m here to stand up as a Jew and as an academic to say that Israeli apartheid does not stand for my values, and that university institutions, as centers of knowledge, have an obligation to tend toward social justice and truth.”

Organizers also called on the university to end its Israel Innovation Project, a STEM program where students, faculty and staff collaborate with counterparts in Israel.

Asked about the protest, a spokesperson shared a statement on the university’s position on the encampment saying “the safety of all members of our community cannot and will not be compromised, nor can their expression disrupt the learning environment or University operations.”

At the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, hundreds of people protested outside Levi Hall on campus.

“It is our duty to separate bombs from education,” said one speaker to the crowd. “We want this university to invest in us, not war machines.” Protesters chanted, “Money for jobs and education, not war and occupation.”

Local protest organizers also called on their schools to refuse future donations from the Crown family, who own a 10% stake in defense company General Dynamics. The University of Chicago is home to Crown Family School of Social Work, Family and Practice, and the family has endowed a professorship at SAIC. The family is a major donor to many universities.

In a statement to the Sun-Times, UChicago said its role is to be a “home and sponsor of critics” — but it will not take on the role of critic itself, out of concern it would “diminish” its ability to educate.

“The university has developed a consensus against taking social or political stances on issues outside its core mission,” the statement said. “Doing this through investments or other means would only diminish the university’s distinctive contribution — providing a home for faculty and students to espouse and challenge the widest range of social practices and beliefs.”

Roosevelt and Columbia did not respond to requests for comment, nor did representatives for the Crown family.

The rallies in Chicago did not lead to extended clashes with police, or any arrests, and protesters did not attempt to set up encampments or spend the night.

No major counter-protests materialized Friday, either. In Evanston, Haim Engelman, an MBA student at Norhwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, spent several hours at the protest on Friday to show support for Israel.

“I’m out here calling to free the hostages. I’m out here saying, ‘Am Yisrael chai,’ the nation of Israel lives,” Engelman, 31, said. He added that he plans to keep showing up “until the president of this university enforces his own rules” and clears out the encampment.

Contributing: Aidan Sadovi

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