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Student protesters interrupt Northwestern athletic facility groundbreaking ceremony

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EVANSTON — More than a hundred Northwestern students interrupted the school's ceremony for the groundbreaking of its new $260-million athletic facility Friday, advocating "standing in solidarity with" minority students in light of recent events at the University of Missouri and Yale.

"From NU to Mizzou, we care about you," students chanted as they overran the ceremony and forced its brief postponement.

The protesters started their event at The Black House — Northwestern's African American student center — on Sheridan Road, marching north to the Henry Crown Sports Pavilion, where the ceremony was being held.

Protesters knocked over curtains and poles that had been set up for the ceremony.

The group specifically addressed Northwestern president Morton Schapiro with a prepared list of demands. The protestors attended this event because they thought it would provide them with the most direct access to Schapiro, who they believe is not actively involved in creating a more equal and better atmosphere for students of color at the university.

The ceremony was halted for roughly 20 minutes, interrupting Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips' speech.

The organized protest began at noon on Northwestern's campus at the Black House, a gathering place for black students at Northwestern since the early 1970s. The building has come under fire this year after Northwestern announced its plans to move offices from the Campus Inclusion and Community department into spaces designated as meeting areas for Black students in the building. Northwestern postponed the movement quickly this summer after its announcement, due to backlash against it.

"We acknowledge that our pursuit of higher education does not leave us exempt from the racist reality that is America," information on a Facebook event promoting the protest read. "What happens to black students on one campus is a display of the racial tensions happening on ALL campuses. The institutions meant to provide a standard of safety have not lived up to these standards in regards to black bodies. Because of this, we uphold the demands issued by Mizzou and Yale students and the demands respective to our own institutions."

Speaking afterwards, Phillips said he was proud of the protesters. "It is about freedom of speech, it is about independent thinking, it is about leadership. We encourage that on our campus here at Northwestern."

"Students have a right to say what they want to say. I don't have any issue with [the protests]."

Phillips said there was never any thought to cancelling the ceremony.

"They were civil and non-confrontational," he continued. "This was never a physical affair, it was never going to be. Everybody sat and listened for as long as they want to state their case. People should be proud of how Northwestern demonstrated itself in an unscripted kind of format."

Protesters chanted "you can't stop the revolution" as they exited the building. They then formed a big circle outside.

Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald, middle linebacker Anthony Walker and starting quarterback Clayton Thorson picked up a mini model of the plans for the new facility and removed it from the room to prevent damage.

Inside, Northwestern president Schapiro addressed the protests as the students exited the building, and the ceremony then continued.

While the ceremony continued, Northwestern vice president of student affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin addressed a throng of protesters outside:

Early Friday morning around 2 a.m. Schaprio sent an email to address the situation at Missouri and to promote events on campus to facilitate discussion on the issues. The protesting group took issue with the timing of the email, in both its time of day and the length of time that had passed since the situation at Missouri became national news.

Here is a copy of the email:

email

Here are some more pictures from the ceremony's interruption: