DePaul University reaches ‘impasse’ with pro-Palestine encampment, next steps unclear

CHICAGO — DePaul University has reached an “impasse” in negotiations with the school’s pro-Palestine encampment, administrators said Saturday night, as protest organizers worry they’ll be forcefully removed from the Lincoln Park quad, accusing the school of negotiating in “bad faith.”

The future of the nearly two-week old encampment remains unclear. A university spokesperson declined to elaborate on what methods might be used to end the encampment given the stalemate, or the timeline for intervention.

DePaul President Robert Manuel and Provost Salma Ghanem said in a statement that while students are peacefully protesting, “responses to the encampment have inadvertently created public safety issues that put our community at risk.” There was a heavy Chicago police presence on campus last Sunday as tensions flared between the encampment and pro-Israeli counterprotesters.

They also said they are “extremely disappointed” negotiations have fallen apart in the past few days.

Manuel released the school’s updated response to the encampment’s demands, which if students had accepted would have required that the encampment disband by noon Sunday. Among other items, DePaul agreed to say the university is “devastated by the destruction of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure,” but not to call the war a “genocide” because the phrase is “a question of international law and fact.” They also agreed to host a meeting between organizers and Board of Trustees leadership.

However, representatives with the DePaul Divestment Coalition said they felt pressured to close the encampment immediately and that they had too little notice to properly consider the latest response. They called on the school at a Saturday night news conference to continue negotiations, urging them to disclose their investments and divest from those with ties to Israel or weapons manufacturers.

“Despite this coalition’s dedication to encouraging and facilitating the community built with empathy and compassion, and continuing to come to the table in good faith, this university has met us with constant disrespect, professional ignorance and extraordinary apathy,” said Parveen Mundi, DePaul’s student body president.

Mundi said school administrators have cited “vague threats that they’re unwilling and unable to specify” as the reason the encampment must end. She said it would be a “mistake” for them to call in Chicago police to break it up.

“What’s most concerning to us is that the president’s office is unwilling to directly answer what exactly happens now that a stalemate has been declared,” she said.

For around a week, there was little to no police intervention at Chicago-area campuses, even as schools across the country sent in law enforcement to douse pro-Palestine demonstrations, leading to more than 2,400 arrests nationwide.

That changed last Saturday, however, when Chicago police arrested nearly 70 protesters at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Loop, and university police raided the encampment at the University of Chicago a few days later. In rarer instances, schools including Northwestern University, struck ​​agreements with protest leaders to restrict the disruption to campus life and upcoming commencement ceremonies.

Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, said at the news conference that students are exercising their First Amendment rights to “denounce the genocide, to denounce the complicity of our own government.”

“We are asking the university to come back to the negotiation table, to refrain to use any force against students that are peacefully demonstrating,” he said. “Furthermore, those who perpetrate violence, those who provoke, those who come to actually instigate a great violence in our city, those individuals and those organizations should be investigated.”

Lena Rajab, a Palestinian student at DePaul, said some of her family is still in Gaza and that she finds it “disgusting” that her “tuition money is going to the genocide of my own people.”

More than 34,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, as Israel ordered new evacuations Saturday in the southern city of Rafah as it prepared to expand its military operation. Israel launched its bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, where the group killed some 1,200 people and took 250 hostages.

President Joe Biden has defended the right to protest but insisted that “order must prevail” at college campuses, as some in Chicago’s Jewish community demanded action at local universities to prevent hate speech.