Campus reacts to recent protests at Reynolds Club

By Lauren Osen

The arrests of four people, including three U of C students, protesting Marine recruiters on campus last week have sparked reactions throughout the University. The Spartacus Youth Club (SYC) is planning a protest, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) held a lunch with civil rights expert Geoffrey Stone, and students and professors have written letters to the administration.

Three students, third-year in the College Tom Discepola and fourth-years Jeremy Cohan and Ben Fink, as well as 19-year-old SYC member Brian Stapleton, were arrested in the Reynolds Club on Tuesday, February 21, while protesting military recruiters on campus. Cohan and Fink held a sign displaying swastikas, chanted, and asked bystanders to dismember plastic baby dolls to prepare for their future with the Marines.

“Our goal was, through obvious exaggeration, to expose the injustices hidden underneath the placid facade of friendly Marine recruiters in the Reynolds Club,” Cohan said.

SYC members Discepola and Stapleton were called by friends during the protest and arrived at the Reynolds Club to show support. Sharlene Holly, assistant dean of students and director of the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities, said she felt the protesters’ chanting escalated the situation, and she called in the U of C Police Department when she said she felt the safety of other students was in danger. The four protesters were all charged with misdemeanors of disorderly conduct and released from jail around 9 p.m. that night.

The administration made no public statement about the incident other than a statement released to the Maroon. In a letter sent to the student protesters on Tuesday, the administration said it would suggest dropping all charges of disorderly conduct.

“While the ultimate decision to drop the charges of disorderly conduct is strictly in the hands of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, we are in the process of notifying that office that we will not pursue the charges in court,” said Vice-President and Dean of Students in the University Stephen Klass in an e-mail interview.

“As for internal disciplinary processes, as always, these must remain confidential and we cannot comment.”

There have been a variety of reactions within the community. While some students and professors have written letters to the administration supporting the protesters, others have started the Facebook group “Nazis? Honestly, what the f*%$ were you thinking?” of which Fink and Cohan are both members.

“Every professor to whom I’ve spoken has expressed amusement and curiosity about how the protest was conducted, utter shock at what was done to the protesters, and has offered every support and encouragement possible,” Cohan said. “Student reaction has definitely been mixed, but the willingness of lots of students to dismiss with a sneer something whose intentions and form were only to try to work for the betterment of life on this campus and life in this world is a real disappointment.”

“I have been happy to see widespread outrage amongst students, faculty, and campus workers…who oppose the arrests as well as the bogus charges of disorderly conduct,” Discepola said.

At a SYC meeting on Tuesday, members discussed their plans for a campus protest in the main quad next Wednesday at noon. During the protest, the SYC and supporters of the protesters will demand that the administration drop all charges against the protesters and cease threats of disciplinary action.

“This is an attempt by the U of C administration… to suppress and intimidate anyone who opposes military recruitment and the occupation of Iraq,” said SYC in its written statement on the incident, which the group has been circulating around campus.

Over 40 students and faculty members gathered in the Bartlett lounge on Thursday for the ACLU’s sponsored lunch with Law School Professor Geoffrey Stone, who spoke about the boundaries of the First Amendment and its application in private versus public universities. He stressed that a private university is not bound to protect the First Amendment rights of its students or faculty; the First Amendment only restricts the government from limiting an individual’s freedom of speech.

“As essential members of a community defined in part to promote discourse and debate on issues of public and academic importance, the goal is to create an environment where students feel free to express their beliefs and ideas,” Stone said.

Stone declined to speak specifically about last week’s arrests but affirmed the University’s right to regulate protests when they block access to buildings, interfere with classes, or create unsafe environments.