NEWS

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February 24, 2006

Protest in Reynolds ends with four arrests

University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) officers arrested four people, three of whom were students, in the Reynolds Club Marketplace on Tuesday and charged them with disorderly conduct. The four were protesting the presence of military recruiters on campus.

According to bystanders, fourth-years in the College Ben Fink and Jeremy Cohan were holding a poster with swastikas that read, “Don’t Join the Marines, Join the American Nazi Youth,” and chanting “We do what the Marines do, but better,” while standing on top of a table across the hall from recruiters for the U.S. Marine Corps.

Minutes after the protesters arrived, Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (ORCSA) staff members asked them to step down from the table and lower their voices. According to bystanders, the protesters complied with the administrators’ requests, but continued chanting and asking bystanders to dismember plastic baby dolls to “prepare for [their] future with the Marines.”

According to Fink and Cohan, Sharlene Holly, the associate dean of students in the University and director of ORCSA, urged them to cease their protest on the grounds that they were offending people with their sign.

“We asked them to adjust their protest to not include Nazi imagery,” Holly said. Onlookers and members of Hillel, who happened to be tabling across from the recruiters, began engaging the protesters in conversation about the crude nature of their protest.

Third-year in the College Samuel Philipson witnessed the event. “Though I think that the use of Nazi symbols is in poor taste, I believe that they had a right to protest,” he said. “The crowd seemed to be split on the issue, as they had supporters in the audience.”

“The Nazi imagery drowned out the rest of their message,” said Hillel’s Rabbi David Rosenberg, who also witnessed the protest.

“The fact that several of them were Jewish does not change the fact that their medium was highly inappropriate: Whether we like it or not, the swastika has become an icon of Nazism,” Rosenberg said.

“We are saddened that students were arrested,” he added.

Fink claims that he and Cohan were “simply bringing exposure to the hate and violence that the Marines perpetrate daily.”

Holly said the protesters refused to cease their protest even as more ORCSA staff urged them to stop. She also claimed that the protesters would not adequately identify themselves.

“We offered them the chance to disagree with what we were asking them to do and file a complaint with the dean, but they didn’t want to take that option,” Holly said.

“The nature of their protest continued to escalate tensions. Consequently, in my judgment, the area was becoming increasingly overcrowded and physically unsafe and I directed members of the ORCSA staff to call the University of Chicago Police Department,” Holly added.

Fink said that he and Cohan continued their protest, but stopped yelling, got off the table, and moved out of the way of hallway traffic.

Fink and Cohan claim they asked Holly to show them what University policy they were violating, while their friend, second-year in the College Jarrett Belle-Isle, pulled up the University’s policy on his laptop.

“Because I was in the middle of a volatile situation, I did not have time to go check a policy manual; I was trying to maintain an environment of safety,” Holly said.

Approximately 45 minutes after the protest began, police officers arrived at the scene and arrested Fink and Cohan, as well as two members of the socialist Spartacus Youth Club, third-year in the College Tom Discepola, and Brian Stapleton, on whom administrators had no records.

Discepola and Stapleton were not part of the original protest, but refused to stop chanting, “Administrators hands off, recruiters off campus.” Holly said they escalated the protest and created a dangerous environment.

Fink and Cohan claim they were arrested without first being given an ultimatum or a formal charge from the police.

The students were turned over to the Chicago Police Department, which charged the four protesters with a misdemeanor of disorderly conduct and released them from jail around 9 p.m. Tuesday night.

“It was the protesters’ continued unwillingness to comply with staff requests and the increased agitation that their actions caused that led ORCSA staff to seek the assistance of the UCPD officer on the scene,” said Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University in a statement released to the Maroon.

Holly added that she and her staff “have the job of ensuring that student behavior does not constitute a disruptive act, as articulated on page 48 of the Student Manual, and it was my professional judgment that the protesters’ refusal to comply with these requests constituted a breach of this policy.”

According to University policy, a disruptive act constitutes “obstructing, impairing, or interfering with University sponsored or authorized activities or facilities in a manner likely to deprive others of the benefit or enjoyment of the activity or facility.”

“Tuesday was one of the saddest days I have had in the last 15 years I have spent working with College and University students,” Holly said. “Many members of the University of Chicago community were hurt, outraged, and offended by the swastikas, Nazi references, and shouts inviting people to join them to kill Muslims and other minorities. The student protesters were not concerned that their language and imagery were hurting others in their own community.”

Under the Solomon Amendment, the University is obligated to allow military recruiters on campus. The amendment allows the Secretary of Defense to deny federal grants, including research grants, to institutions of higher learning that prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus based upon their discrimination policies against homosexuals.

But recently in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the court held that the law violates the First Amendment by restricting a school’s right of expressive association and by compelling schools to assist in the expressive act of recruiting. While the decision is in contention with the Supreme Court, schools such as Harvard University and Columbia University are banning military recruiters from their campuses.

According to Holly, although the University of Chicago has been advised by its legal counsel to continue to allow military recruiters on campus, it has signed an amicus brief that does not support the Solomon Amendment.

“If we allow other organizations like Teach for America to recruit in the Reynolds Club, then we have to allow the Marines to do that too; we can’t deny them a space,” Holly added.

Fink and Cohan also protested military recruiters on campus last quarter and were asked to leave for “disturbing the Reynolds Club peace,” according to Cohan. They were promised that they would be informed the next time the recruiters were on campus, so that they could coordinate a protest with Reynolds Club administrators. Cohan claims they were not informed when the recruiters would return.

“We are incensed by the University’s conduct, and we do not plan on staying quiet about it,” Fink said.

Yesterday, supporters of the protesters hung posters in the Reynolds Club with a picture of Fink being handcuffed by authorities, which read: “The Reynolds Club is not a free speech zone.” Some posters advertised a website about the incident, which include photos that Belle-Isle took with his camera phone.

Because many of the posters did not follow University Poster Regulations, they are being removed by ORCSA faculty.