When Jeff Sessions stepped on stage in Lutkin Hall Tuesday night, the first sounds the audience heard were the cries of “No justice, no peace, abolish ICE” echoing from outside.
Sessions’ lecture, “The Real Meaning of the ‘Trump Agenda,’” hosted by the Northwestern University College Republicans, began after waiting for the chants to stop. They never did. Sessions told the audience of nearly 300 people that he would “give insight into the meaning of the  election,” drawing on his experience as a U.S. senator and his brief tenure as U.S. attorney general.
Outside the hall's main doors, students, community members and representatives from various political and social organizations gathered to protest the event, with picket signs and flyers in hand. Some were part of Night of Action at Northwestern University, a part-protest-part-civic-engagment event. This group aimed to protest Sessions while acknowleding his right to speak on campus, according to a now-deleted Facebook event.
Additionally, a separate group of protesters unaffiliated with the Night of Action took more direct action in an attempt to disrupt the talk, climbing into Lutkin through an open window and breaking open a side door, through which they began entering the building. University police officers rushed to remove the protestors, then stood guarding the doors. Immediately after, the crowd adjusted their chant to yell, “No justice no peace, abolish the police.”
Throughout the lecture, protesters chanted, yelled and pounded on the side of the auditorium, sometimes drowning out Sessions’ voice. Their chants included “ICE, KKK, how many kids have you killed today?” and “When equal rights are under attack what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”
In line with his past statements on ICE and sanctuary cities, as well as his reversal of the decision to allow domestic abuse or gang violence victims asylum in the United States, Sessions was uncompromising in his beliefs on immigration policy.
“It’s open and shut to me,” Sessions said. “You don’t get to come in illegally.”
He denounced family migration and endorsed merit migration, explaining that “America wants” the immigrants who he said will contribute meaningfully to society.
Sessions later discussed U.S. foreign policy. He condemned the military action in Syria for increasing terrorist recruitment and worsening the living standard for Syrians. “Washington politicians have lost a sense of realism,” Sessions said, calling for more cautious moves in foreign policy to prevent American lives lost overseas. “We don’t need to ensure stability in every country,” he said.
At the conclusion of his talk, NUCR members collected written questions from the audience to ask Sessions. He fielded questions on topics such as his time in the Senate, religious liberty, seasonal immigration, the Trump administration’s attacks on LGBTQ+ rights (Sessions: “We’ve not done that”; audience member: “False!”), state marijuana policies (“I would urge you to be careful before you experiment too much with marijuana… [Marijuana lobbyists] are a lying bunch of skunks”) and more. In a particularly pointed moment, protesters outside began to scream at a high pitch as Sessions answered the question, “What do you think about the protesters outside?” He commended them for asserting their right to free speech, but questioned their lack of respect for his.
However, to graduate student Nikki McDaid-Morgan, the protest was a way to oppose the dehumanization that she said Sessions represents.
“There are several things that are happening in our current political moment that dehumanize particular groups who are already dehumanized on a regular basis in this country,” McDaid-Morgan said. “That is a lot of what the current administration and Jeff Sessions stands for which is why I’m here.”
McDaid-Morgan believes that the University is complicit in this, noting, “this is just one more thing in the line of things that Northwestern has done that shows that they don’t care that much about marginalized groups.”
McDaid-Morgan was not alone in this view. For each latecomer who entered Lutkin to witness Sessions speak, an overwhelming sea of boos would erupt from the crowd.
However, some student attendees appeared unfazed. “It’s something I’m very interested in listening to,” said McCormick third-year Matthew Snell. “I have no problems voicing my opinions or beliefs about anything. One characteristic of a person’s identity doesn’t define who they are.”
Kitty Yang, co-chair of Northwestern University Graduate Workers, who passed out flyers to fellow protesters, commented on the dual emotions she felt about Tuesday night’s turnout. “I’m really heartened to see so many people out here,” she said. “But I’m still very disappointed to see that so many people are here to see him.”
Editor's note: North by Northwestern recognizes the sensitivity of this situation, particularly in regard to the privacy and safety of student activists. We do not wish to add to any trauma that has already been endured. In light of this, we have not directly reached out to any student activists for this story, but believe their experience is still important to share. If any Northwestern student would like to share their story of protest last night or otherwise, please reach out to me (Mia Mamone, Editor-in-Chief) at [email protected] or [email protected]