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Pro-Palestinian encampments collage

Photos are by Pat Nabong, Ashlee Rezin, Jim Vondruska, Anthony Vazquez, and Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere of the encampments at University of Chicago, Northwestern University, DePaul University, and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Mendy Kong/WBEZ

By the numbers: How long did the pro-Palestinian student encampments in Chicago last?

WBEZ reviewed six campus encampments to compare their duration and size, and the responses they got from police and university officials.

Northwestern University president Michael Schill was grilled by House Republicans last week on his decision to strike a deal with student organizers of a pro-Palestinian encampment.

Schill and university leaders at two other institutions were called before a Congressional committee in the latest round of hearings, led by members of the GOP, dedicated to addressing “antisemitic college chaos.” Schill, who is Jewish, defended the agreement as part of his commitment to protecting students’ safety and fostering dialogue.

Protestors had demanded Northwestern disclose its investments and divest from companies that supply arms to Israel. The school had an endowment of $13.7 billion in 2023, making it one of the wealthiest in the nation.

As part of the deal, student organizers from NU Divestment Coalition agreed to dismantle the encampment. University leaders didn’t agree to divestment, but in return, they committed to answer questions from students and faculty about the school’s investments, pay for the education of five Palestinian undergraduates and establish a temporary affinity space for Middle Eastern and North African students.

Although the agreement elicited mixed reactions from students on both sides of the issue, it peacefully ended Northwestern’s five-day encampment without cops or arrests.

The encampment at Northwestern appears to be the first established on a college campus in Illinois. Pro-Palestinian encampments at other campuses soon followed. But their fates were different. At some campuses, when negotiations failed, school administrators called police officers to clear the encampments, resulting in student arrests.

WBEZ identified details about the largest and longest student encampments in Illinois at six campuses through a search of news reports and social media. Students at several other Illinois campuses were also involved in pro-Palestinian protests. All six campus encampments WBEZ detailed have been taken down.

As seniors graduate and students leave campus for the summer, WBEZ took a look back at six Illinois campus encampments by the numbers to compare their duration and size, as well as the reactions they elicited from law enforcement and university officials.

Where were pro-Palestinian encampments in Illinois?

Most of the encampments WBEZ identified were at private schools in the Chicago area — with the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute, and DePaul University in the city; and Northwestern University in north suburban Evanston.

Downstate, there were encampments at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University, both public state schools.

How long did the encampments last?

Northwestern University students were the first to set up an encampment, on April 25, and they were the first to disassemble one, on April 29. Following Northwestern, encampments were set up at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, on April 26; the University of Chicago, on April 29; and DePaul University and Illinois State University, on April 30. The May 4 encampment at the School of the Art Institute, located inside the Art Institute museum’s North Garden lasted the shortest amount of time. The encampment was up for only 5 hours before dozens of Chicago police officers were given dispersal orders and ultimately broke through a group of demonstrators forming a human chain.

Students at DePaul, the nation’s largest Catholic university, had the longest standing encampment at 17 days, occupying the quadrangle of the university’s Lincoln Park campus.

The duration of some encampments has also not been continuous.

The University of Illinois encampment was raided by police and dismantled the same day it began. Two days later, student organizers reinstated the encampment on the quad on April 28. It officially ended on May 10, the day before graduation, with the university’s chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine and the Faculty for Justice in Palestine releasing a statement that the groups decided to temporarily take down the tents on their own terms.

At Illinois State University, students voluntarily took down their quad encampment on May 2, but WGLT reported the tents were still up on May 4, before completely clearing by May 9. In addition, on May 3, seven students from ISU’s Students for Justice in Palestine transitioned to a sit-in inside Hovey Hall where the office of university president Aondover Tarhule is located. It ended the same day when the students were arrested.

Although the six encampments have now ceased, both student and faculty organizers have transitioned into other actions like rallies, a die-in, and art builds. On May 18, more than a dozen UChicago alumni, students, and community members occupied the university’s Institute of Politics for about five hours.

What school had the biggest encampment on its first day?

Northwestern’s encampment rallied the greatest number of attendees on its first day, crawling up to an estimated 300 protestors, after the first 50 activists set up their tents that morning.

Meanwhile, the encampments at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Illinois State University started out with only about 30 people or less. At the University of Illinois, the encampment grew to 100 students by the end of the first few days.

Several dozen Chicago Public Schools high schoolers joined the encampment at the University of Chicago. About 15 Jones College students took a CTA bus to join a group of around 30 kids from Kenwood Academy High School, Hancock College Prep and Kennedy High School who had marched through Hyde Park to the encampment on the Quad.

How did the police and universities respond to the encampments? How many were arrested?

Nationwide, Axios reports more than 2,950 people have been arrested at pro-Palestinian protests on at least 61 college campuses as of May 10.

In Chicago, the Chicago Police Department arrested 68 SAIC protesters, mostly students. All arrestees were released by the following day. Afterwards, SAIC Students for Palestinian Liberation released a statement saying “arrestees have reported a range of brutal treatment from CPD/SWAT: being slammed onto the ground, hit, kneeled and stepped on, dragged, aggressively grabbed, and elbowed. Many of those arrested were injured, and two arrested students needed to be taken to the ER.”

At ISU, following the encampment’s move to Hovey Hall, seven protestors were arrested, with each being charged one count of criminal trespass to state land and one count of criminal trespass to a building, both misdemeanors. They were suspended and restricted from participating in university activities.

At DePaul University, CPD arrested two protestors for traffic obstruction. Police with batons pushed both students and reporters back from the encampment, and a reporter with The DePaulia witnessed an officer shoving a Muslim student who “wasn’t even a part of the encampment” and removing her hijab.

At the University of Illinois, campus police arrested two non-student protestors. In police case report records obtained by WBEZ, university police charged them both with multiple offenses. These charges included criminal trespassing on state supported land, obstruction of the police, and mob action, a Class 4 felony. One of the non-student protestors was also charged with aggravated battery of a police officer.

UI police encampment charges

Charges made against two protesters arrested by the University of Illinois Police Department on April 26, 2024. Arrest information sheets and police case reports were obtained by WBEZ through a records request.

Another protester said she had symptoms of a mild concussion after campus police tried to dismantle the encampment on April 26.

There were no arrests at the Northwestern and the University of Chicago encampments, according to media reports. But more than 20 University of Chicago students and faculty gathered following the sweeping of their encampment to call out “police ‘shoving, hitting’ while [the] encampment was cleared.”

Ameera S

Flanked by supporters, University of Chicago alumnus Ameera S., who asked for her last name to be excluded out of safety concerns, holds up photos of colleges destroyed in Gaza as she speaks during a news conference on campus about the dismantling of the pro-Palestine protest encampment in the quad, Thursday, May 9, 2024.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

In addition, four seniors at the University of Chicago are facing disciplinary action from the school. The university is withholding their degrees, pending a school disciplinary process, for their involvement with the pro-Palestinian encampment.

Mendy Kong is a digital producer at WBEZ; follow them @ngogejat. Amy Qin is a data reporter for WBEZ; follow her @amyqin12.

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