On October 19, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine students held competing protests on the University of Chicago’s Main Quad, and minor conflict ensued after the groups encountered each other. Now, hundreds have signed onto an open letter calling one administrator’s response to the competing demonstrations “completely unacceptable.”
The 19th’s pro-Israel demonstration was organized by the UChicago chapter of Chabad and joined by other Jewish student groups. Gerald McSwiggan, UChicago’s associate director for public affairs, told the Thinker that “Chabad requested a reservation on the main circle of the Quad for its event on October 19, which was granted.” Meanwhile, the pro-Palestine side was led by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), which “did not make a request for space on that day.”
McSwiggan informed the Thinker that three deans-on-call (“trained University administrators who . . . serve as points of contact for students”) “were present at the [October 19] event.” One of them—Shevy Booze—expressed overt partiality for SJP, a student affiliated with Yavneh (an Orthodox Jewish intellectual community) alleged to the Thinker.
Dean-on-call Booze, an associate director of residence life, “arrived wearing red, green, black and white: the colors of the Palestinian flag,” and was “seen—and photographed—standing with SJP protestors,” the student told the Thinker. Additionally, the student alleges that she “was seen marching with SJP protestors” on October 20.
Aggravating the situation on the 19th was the “uneven enforcement of supposedly content-neutral restrictions” on the demonstrations. Here, the student mentioned Booze’s inaction when “SJP protestors aggressively approached the pro-Israel students and ripped up pictures of hostages” as well as the university’s “immediate demand that [the pro-Israel demonstrators] silence [their] speakers at exactly 1 p.m.”
This stood in contrast to the administration seemingly not addressing SJP’s use of amplified sound during prohibited hours and the silencing of pro-Israel demonstrators via that amplified sound, the student alleged.
Booze’s “strong partisanship” provoked an open letter that, at the time of writing, has attracted 262 signatures. The letter contends that “many students thought that Ms. Booze was in fact protesting with SJP. . . . [H]er name tag was hidden behind the lapel of her coat, making it nearly impossible to identify her as any member of University staff or Dean-on-Call.”
“Ms. Booze not only showed a clear bias toward a specific RSO, but she actively turned a blind eye to SJP’s violation of University policy and turned her back on at least half of the students there. This is completely unacceptable,” the open letter further alleges.
For his part, UChicago’s McSwiggan informed the Thinker that “Deans-on-Call asked SJP UChicago to move their demonstration elsewhere on the Quad and they did not comply. Deans-on-Call have a process for handling refusals to comply with the directives of University staff, as well as violations of University policies during protests.”
“While we welcome feedback on interactions with student groups, it is incorrect to suggest that any Dean-on-Call favored one group over another in this situation or in any subsequent interactions with UChicago SJP, UChicago Chabad, and other groups on the Main Quad this past week,” contended McSwiggan. “The Deans-on-Call are valued colleagues who work to reinforce University policies and provide a welcoming campus environment for everyone.”
Perry Zhao is a senior editor for the Chicago Thinker. He is currently a fourth year in the College majoring in Economics and Philosophy and minoring in History. He hopes to attend law school after graduation. Outside of class, he is an amateur guitarist, home cook, and marathon runner.