‘Untenable dilemma’: Northeastern chancellor pens letter regarding arrests of protesting students

BOSTON — After more than 100 protesters were arrested over the weekend for an illegal encampment on the campus, Northeastern University’s Chancellor wrote a letter to the community explaining why these actions were taken.

Chancellor and Senior Vice President for Learning Ken Henderson along with Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs David Madigan penned the letter on Monday they say as a way to move forward together.

“Over the weekend, like many colleges and universities nationwide, Northeastern faced an untenable dilemma,” they wrote. “While we embrace – and even celebrate – the spirited exchange of divergent views, we must balance that aspiration with our responsibility for the safety and well-being of more than 30,000 people who live, work and study on our Boston campus.”

According to a police report, 98 individuals were arrested, including 29 Northeastern students and 6 Northeastern faculty and staff.

The pro-Palestinian protesters linked arms in a circle around an encampment calling on the university to divest from Israeli companies and denounce the ongoing war in Gaza. The University says the students on the quad were breaking their code of conduct.

“First, the encampment was an unauthorized occupation of university space,” Henderson and Madigan wrote. “Protesters not affiliated with Northeastern were trespassing on private property. Student protesters were in violation of longstanding university policy on demonstrations. Second, the steadily increasing presence of protesters not affiliated with the university led to a clear escalation in tensions.”

Some student protestors said the majority of the people involved were students and they don’t think they should have been removed.

“They acted in a way as if this was not a completely civil and peaceful protest and were detaining students as if they were creating a riot and in riot gear as if we were in a riot during a civil protest in camps and tents sitting peacefully for days,” said Jermaiah Sawageb, a graduate student.

“Third, the persistent use of intolerant and hurtful speech over the course of two days reached a crescendo late Friday night,” the letter read. “All of these factors, taken together, left university leaders with no choice but to act. It is important to note that all protesters were provided with several advance notices that the encampment would be dismantled. Protesters were offered several opportunities to leave the area and face no legal consequences. Those who refused to leave were detained by police.”

Northeastern said students who showed a valid ID were released and will be disciplined by the university. The details of the discipline were not immediately available.

The letter to the Northeastern community ended with looking ahead to graduation. Despite other universities across the country canceling their commencements due to protests, Northeastern will continue with theirs.

“The week ahead represents the culmination of our collective work. Commencement 2024 will showcase the incredible achievements of our students, who will harness what they’ve learned at Northeastern to tackle society’s grand challenges. While debate and disagreement are hallmarks of academic discourse, we must never demonize those with whom we disagree. We must remain one community united in the pursuit of knowledge.”

To read the full letter, click here.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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