Protesters disrupted a State of the Campus speech yesterday by Indiana University Provost Lauren Robel. The group held a sign reading “Sanctuary Campus” and questioned Robel about how the university would protect undocumented students from the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants.
For several minutes Robel continued her address, as protesters stood silently, holding the sign in front of her. But after Robel discussed the university’s new First Thursdays events, including what she called the diversity of the crowds, a protester asked her a question.
“You say you care about international students and diversity on campus, but if (Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers) were to come on campus today and start to round up students, would you cooperate?” the protester asked.
Robel declined to respond, saying, “We could have this conversation if you want, right after this.” Robel went on to say she feels the university has made efforts to protect students, though she declined to discuss specifics, instead saying she would be willing to talk with the protesters after her speech.
Eventually an IU police officer approached the group and the protesters later walked out of the room. A camera captured an exchange between a protester, Lauren Alexander, and IU Police Department Captain Andy Stephenson, who took issue with the protesters’ tactics.
Capt. Stephenson: “…you would have a huge following. People believe in what you’re saying. But your tactics…”
Alexander: “But do you understand that it’s not safe for everybody who agrees with us to be doing this because of this (threat of arrest)?”
Capt. Stephenson: “Your tactics alienate others. You’re not listening. That’s the problem. You don’t listen. Your tactics alienate others who would otherwise be on board…This will never be tolerated again, I can assure you that. So spread the word.”
Alexander, an IU student, stopped by the WFHB studios today to discuss her group’s demands of the university. She says she wants to see a commitment that IU will not cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, a promise IU administrators have not been willing to make. Alexander defended the choice to disrupt the State of the Campus speech.
“Other supporters of the sanctuary campus movement have had more — others would call them more civil meetings with (administrators) to discuss what we want,” Alexander said. “People have spoken at Bloomington Faculty Council meetings and have been very polite…and to a lot of people it may seem like what we were doing (today) was not polite or respectable, but it’s what needs to be done at this point because they’re not listening to us.”
IU President Michael McRobbie has issued a statement saying the university does not support President Trump’s travel ban, and Robel reportedly told the Indiana Daily Student the university would protect undocumented students “within the limits of the law.”
Alexander says she doesn’t think that Capt. Stephenson’s warning about not tolerating protests will keep her group from continuing to push the sanctuary campus issue. She says she doubts the university police want publicity for arresting peaceful protesters.
“(Stephenson) says that these protests will not be tolerated at the same time that he was threatening to arrest us,” she said. “We never have been tolerated. I don’t think (the warning) is going to deter people. Because (police) can say as much as they want that things won’t be tolerated, but we have to look at their actual actions, what they’ve been willing to do, what would provide the image that they are going for.”
WFHB reached out to IU for comment today. A person who answered the phone in Robel’s office said she was in back-to-back meetings and couldn’t speak with a reporter. The provost’s communications director, Jennifer Piurek, did not return a call for comment.