It’s not every day that students pass by uniformed police officers on their way to lecture in Harris Hall.
On Tuesday, about a hundred students crammed into Peter Ludlow’s philosophy class to protest the University’s handling of Ludlow’s alleged sexual assault of a student. Two police officers were placed at each entrance, standing stoically as students streamed into the building.
Ludlow is the subject of a recent lawsuit from a Medill junior, who claims Northwestern did not abide by Title IX law by continuing to allow Ludlow to teach after she filed a sexual assault complaint against him her freshman year. Northwestern found that Ludlow “engaged in unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” but did not remove him from campus.
At 6:25 Tuesday morning, Ludlow cancelled the class. But this encouraged rather than dissuaded the protestors, and the sit-in became a forum for discussion despite the lack of Ludlow’s actual presence. Scrawled on the room’s chalkboard was a message urging students to “implement useful shit.”
Students in the occupied classroom discussed Northwestern’s lack of action against Ludlow, how to best convey their message, and the broader goals of their movement. A running theme was that the protest movement should not only fight against Ludlow’s continued employment but also change Northwestern’s sexual assault policy, as stipulated by a recent petition from concerned faculty and students.
“This is much bigger than us,” said Laura Whittenburg, one of the protest’s leaders. “It’s not that ‘this student could’ve done this, or could’ve done that’ – it is never the fault of the person [who is sexually assaulted.]”
Students also discussed various strategies to raise awareness about the issue.
One philosophy grad student noted that around the time the incident involving the freshman occurred, Ludlow wrote a pseudonymous piece about the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the Huffington Post titled “What Would You Do?”, suggesting this sentence be used on protest signs.
The ad-hoc forum went on for half an hour. It was eventually decided that students gather at the Rock and then “march through the Arch” to the Dean of Weinberg’s office to make their point clear.
Huddled together on the cold pavement outside Dean Sarah Mangelsdorf’s office, students chanted “No more victims!” and “Title IX! Title IX!” Student leaders Whittenburg and Jasmine Stephens shuttled back and forth between the Dean in her office and the protestors in the street, who were blocked from the building by several police officers and a squad car.
Northwestern’s all-student email that morning in response to the petition did little to soothe the crowd, who argued it was vaguely-worded and did not specifically address their demands.
The email, from Northwestern’s Title IX committee, said Northwestern may consider termination as a sanction against faculty who have relationships with students, but made no changes to Ludlow’s current employment status and did not mention him by name.
“We would appreciate a response that goes beyond damage control,” said Weinberg junior Moira Geary, adding it was disappointing Northwestern never apologized for its lack of direct action against Ludlow.
As the crowd waited for Mangelsdorf’s official response, some tension erupted between the protestors and the media outlets at the scene, who effectively blocked the protestors’ view of where Northwestern administrators were supposed to make a statement.
“Kneel!” shouted one protestor to the media. Annoyed, WGN reporter Sean Lewis remarked that “there’s seventy of you here but we broadcast to [millions of people].”
Eventually, the press people formed a circle, allowing Northwestern University spokesman Al Cubbage to speak in view of everyone. He explained that Mangelsdorf would only speak with “three to five” student leaders in private instead of in front of the media.
“How many of these cameras are Northwestern?” he said.
After Cubbage’s brief speech, the crowd dissipated and the event ended. The grassroots movement sparked by the student’s lawsuit is far from over, but the next steps it will take are unclear. The original plan was to sit in on Ludlow’s Thursday class as well, but this may not take place as Ludlow is rumored to have stopped teaching classes for the rest of this quarter and will likely be replaced by a substitute.
Besides sit-ins, the protest’s leaders say they could organize some sort of action around Northwestern’s Board of Trustees meeting next week. There is also talk of an upcoming forum to discuss the way forward in a more formal context, possibly with Northwestern’s administration itself. This depends on whether powerful administrators like Sarah Mangelsdorf agree to be confronted out in the open – an unlikely proposition considering Tuesday’s events.