Exterior shot of the SAIC Lakeview Building.

Demonstration in the Museum's North Garden

May 5, 2024

Dear SAIC Community,

We have heard movingly and forcefully from students expressing a range of positions in regards to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza, and difficult debate, even protest, have a place at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Our paramount goal as a college is to maintain a campus for all learners—free of harassment, discrimination, and physical harm—that also allows us the freedom to express, disagree, and grow.

Yesterday, a group of individuals, including some SAIC students, began a protest in the museum’s North Garden. They set up tents and shoved a security officer, stealing her radio and keys to the museum; thereafter, museum personnel alerted the Chicago Police Department, who were on site throughout the day. School leaders, then arriving at the scene, worked to ensure the safety of our students and the museum’s employees, visitors, and collection. As the day progressed, protesters blocked emergency exits to the garden and museum, which was open for visitors; scaled the scaffolding alongside the building; and barricaded gates. Protesters also summoned additional demonstrators via social media, establishing an additional presence on Michigan Avenue outside of the museum.

We were concerned that the situation had the potential to cause significant harm to the protestors and the public, so we took a number of steps to de-escalate the conflict and mitigate the safety risk. Protesters were offered an alternative location to continue their protest on campus that would not block fire exits or endanger artwork. Student protesters were promised amnesty from academic sanction and trespassing charges if they relocated, and we agreed to meet with a student group to discuss their demands. After multiple rounds of negotiations over approximately five hours, the protestors declined to relocate.

Ultimately, the museum requested that the Chicago Police Department end the protest in the safest way possible. Many protesters left the premises of their own accord after being notified by the police that they were trespassing and subject to arrest; those that remained were arrested after multiple warnings to leave, including some of whom we recognized as SAIC students.

The safety of us all, and those who share our School/museum campus, are prerequisites to a productive learning environment. As we have previously written, our fidelity to academic freedom allows for protest, criticism, and public argument. We respect the right of our community members to peacefully protest, and we have demonstrated this commitment throughout the academic year. For instance, separate protests were previously held inside of the museum, student-led demonstrations have taken place on campus and, as recently as last week, in front of Sharp, the museum, and in the middle of Michigan Avenue; each of these examples took place without interruption or interference from the School, museum, or the Chicago Police Department.

We have no higher obligation than ensuring that we maintain a physically safe Art Institute of Chicago campus in which community members conduct themselves with respect for our many differences. The School will not pursue any academic sanctions against the SAIC students who participated in Saturday’s protest and we are grateful to the museum for notifying us that they do not intend to pursue trespassing charges against our students. We will continue to allow peaceful demonstrations, but given the escalations we’ve seen in the protests over time, we wish to notify the School community that those who engage in future activities that jeopardize the safety of our community or the public, or disrupt academic operations, will be subject to disciplinary action.

Elissa Tenny

Martin Berger
Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs