Jeff Sessions prompts protests as he speaks at Northwestern

By Nicole Stock
Medill Reports

Huddled outside a performance hall on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus Nov. 5, a group of students banged on the glass panes of the wooden door at Lutkin Hall.

“F…k Jeff Sessions!” they chanted, pounding their fists. Many students and community members gathered to protest the invitee of the campus’ college Republicans group, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 

Sessions, 72, spoke at 7 p.m. on “The Real Meaning of the Trump Agenda,” according to the Northwestern University College Republican’s advertisement for the event. 

Trump fired Sessions a year after the attorney general recused himself from the Russia investigation of the President that Trump hoped Sessions would oversee.   

The line for the talk started forming outside of Lutkin,  700 University Pl., at about 5:30 p.m. The doors for the event opened at 6:30, at which point, protesters began to congregate opposite to the line. 

According to Daniel Rodriguez, a second year student at Northwestern, the protest focused on  what Jeff Sessions’ coming to the university symbolized. Many of the protesters’ chants revolved around ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), police corruption, and racism. 

“The university has often times reiterated their focus of protecting minorities, yet they’ve told the people protesting, ‘do not interrupt or you’ll be arrested,’” Rodriguez said, “You have to preach what you talk.” 

Students pound on the doors of Lutkin Hall, in protest of Jeff Sessions’ talk.

Although there was a large police presence, as well as some university officials present, Rodriguez said he wasn’t afraid to be there. 

“I always think about how all the people of color wished that they were able to express their voice in the way that some of the people on this campus do, how they would feel if they had the opportunity,” Rodriguez said.

Once the event began, protestors progressed to the side of the building, where at least two students were able to get inside the hall. They were physically removed by police officers, and taken out of the building. 

Inside the event, Sessions’ talk focused on immigration, foreign policy, and the influencing factors of the 2016 election, The Daily Northwestern reported

Dianne Thodos, an Evanston resident, who self-describes as a part-time business person, artist, and political activist, said she decided to come to the protest after hearing about it from Indivisible Evanston, a local branch of the national advocacy group. 

“I think it’s incredibly important to do this because pushing back from grassroots based anger is necessary, it’s the only way we have to fight against this, when this is embedded in our government, when it’s embedded in the larger social sphere, where people think it’s okay to throw acid in the face of a Latino man or to shoot them in a Walmart,” Thodos said.  “We’re in very dangerous times and it has to be resisted, and it has to be called out, always.” 

Thodos cited Sessions’ ideologies as being one of the many dangers she sees as facing America. 

“Jeff Sessions represents a very dangerous tendency in the country from his term as Attorney General and before that time, he represents the destruction of our constitutional rights and the replacement of democratic values with white supremacy,” she said.

As the night wore on, the number of protesters began to dwindle, but the persistence of their voices did not. At approximately 8:20 p.m., when the talk ended, attendees exited from the back doors of the venue. Protesters who had been clanging on the front entrance ran to the back.

There were several police escorts helping to escort out the members of the audience. As they exited, audience members met the screams of the protestors with words of their own; some were retorts: “We’re not racists!” 

And others expressed  proclamations of support for the current president: “Trump 2020! Make America great again!” 

Matthew Snell, a third year student at Northwestern, was among the attendees of Sessions’ talk. 

“I think that free speech, especially with speakers, is very important no matter where you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s a college campus,” Snell said. 

He noted that the protesting outside was audible during the event and was ‘disruptive’ due to Sessions’ soft-spoken voice. 

“I think it’s idiotic, I mean General Sessions was correct –  this is stupid behavior,” Snell said. “He called this kind of excessive behavior stupid.”

Both attendees and protestors stood in a cluster outside following the event as Sessions was escorted into a vehicle out the front entrance.

He announced Thursday that he is running in 2020 for his former U.S. Senate seat in Alabama.

Photo at top: Students hold signs in protest of Sessions’ speech outside of Lutkin Hall. (Nicole Stock/MEDILL)