EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — A small number of students have received citations from campus police at Northwestern University for their conduct outside a speaking engagement by former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions last month.
The event and its aftermath prompted an apologetic editorial in the Daily Northwestern student newspaper, which in turn prompted criticism and consternation from journalists around the world.
At the invitation of a student group, Sessions spoke at Lutkin Hall on Northwestern’s Evanston campus on Tuesday, Nov. 5. He delivered a 45-minute speech and then answered questions for 30 minutes, Northwestern said.
During his talk, some students vocally protested – and while most were peaceful and adhered to university policies, a small handful attempted to disrupt the speech, Northwestern said.
Following a month-long investigation by Northwestern police, an unspecified number of students which the university described as “small” received citations for disorderly conduct and interfering with the duties of a police officer.
Each citation carries a maximum fine of $125, Northwestern said. The citations are civil actions and do not create criminal records, Northwestern said.
The citations were issued for the protesters’ conduct toward police officers – including pushing, grabbing, and kicking the officers who were trying to keep Lutkin Hall secure, police said.
Following the incident, the Daily Northwestern newspaper responded to complaints about how it covered the protests with an editorial accepting blame for being complicit in “harm” to the students who were protesting.
“We recognize that we contributed to the harm students experienced, and we wanted to apologize for and address the mistakes that we made that night — along with how we plan to move forward,” the editorial said in its opening paragraph.
The editorial went further in expressing guilt for tweeting the photos, adding: “We feel that covering traumatic events requires a different response than many other stories. While our goal is to document history and spread information, nothing is more important than ensuring that our fellow students feel safe — and in situations like this, that they are benefitting from our coverage rather than being actively harmed by it. We failed to do that last week, and we could not be more sorry.”
The Daily Northwestern added its reporters use of the student directory to contact protesters was an “invasion of privacy.” The editorial further expressed worries that it could be complicit in disciplinary actions the university could bring down against students who protested.
“We hope we can rebuild trust that we weakened or lost last week. We understand that this will not be easy, but we are ready to undertake the reform and reflection necessary to become a better paper. We also welcome any feedback you have about our reporting — that night or otherwise,” the editorial said. “The feedback that we have already received either directly or via social media has been incredibly helpful for us, and we are working to implement it immediately.”
Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post represented many on Twitter:
“How is it possible that a newspaper at what is allegedly a top journalism school would apologize for the basics of reporting? This is a travesty and an embarrassment.”
The Daily Northwestern is independent of the university. The schools said it has no faculty adviser, that the student journalists alone are free to decide what gets covered and what gets published.