Jeff Sessions’ visit to Northwestern sparks protests, political clash on campus

By Alexandra Yetter, Co-Editor-in-Chief

From the inside of Northwestern University’s Lutkin Hall, the sounds of banging on walls, high-pitched screaming and angry, guttural chants drowned out much of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ address.

Sessions, who is also a former senator of Alabama, was invited by the Northwestern University College Republicans student organization in an unaffiliated university event Tuesday to speak on “The Real Meaning of the ‘Trump Agenda,’” held at Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place. When word spread about the event, a protest was quickly organized on Facebook.

The evening started out calmly, with a long line of students filing into the hall as “Sweet Home Alabama” played. Meanwhile outside, more than 50 student protestors chanted the slogans on their signs that read “F—k NUCR,” “F–k Sessions.”

Things escalated further when an attendee poked outside the front door to take a video of the protestors while laughing, stirring angry reactions from the crowd.

Some students found a window on the side of the building to open, climbing inside the building, which had been closed off after ticketed attendees had entered, with a standby line filling the hall. Once inside, the students opened the front door to let other protestors in, passing armed police and security guards until the doors were shut again.

Just as Sessions began his address inside, opening with a line on free speech, protestors outside plastered themselves against the doors, chanting “racist” and “white supremacist” through the thin walls, igniting amused reactions from many in the auditorium, including Sessions.

When asked by an audience member about the protestors outside, who by that point had begun screaming loudly, Sessions responded: “This is stupid. This is not right. … Guaranteed in the First Amendment, you can’t have protestors shut down people’s right to speech. And this stupidity is not good. This great university should not tolerate it for one minute. You shouldn’t be blaming young Republicans articulately defending their beliefs and putting up with this kind of trash.”

Sessions’ appearance garnered debate on Northwestern’s campus beforehand, and in a poll of 30 Northwestern students, 90% said they believed Sessions should be allowed to speak on campus, according to a Nov. 6 North by Northwestern article.

At one point outside, a student broke a window with a skateboard. When attendees eventually filed out of the building past the swaths of protestors continuing their shouts of “racist” and “white supremacists,” the opposing student groups clashed as one side hurled insults and the other side demanded their right to free speech. Those supporting Sessions’ right to speak denied they were racist, given the racial diversity among attendees.

Northwestern freshman neuroscience major Evan Scully, wearing a red “Make America Great Again” cap, pointed to the double standard in the protestors’ reaction. When Democrat and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams visited campus the month prior for an address, as reported Oct. 11 by The Daily Northwestern, Scully said he did not notice a protest by Republican students take place.

“I understand people have the right to protest, but, at the same time, I think it’s more valuable for us to go in there and listen to what they have to say instead of making it impossible for the people inside to hear [Sessions],” Scully said. “Even if you don’t like them, I think it’s very important to come listen to them and hear what the other side has to say.”

Although not as contentious, the atmosphere inside the hall during the event was not overwhelmingly friendly toward Sessions—or members of the College Republicans club.

During the Q&A portion of the event, a moderator read questions from audience members. When many of the questions focused on the shining moments of Sessions’ career, an audience member calmly spoke out, “Stop censoring the questions, please,” which was met with applause. And when asked if he participated in rollbacks of LGBTQ+ rights as attorney general, Sessions said he had not, prompting someone to shout out: “False.”

A handful of questions probed at Sessions’ take on the ongoing impeachment inquiry, particularly with regard to whether President Donald Trump was correct in asking Ukraine to investigate the former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

“I’m sure he didn’t ask [Ukraine] to do anything improper,” Sessions said, to some responding “Yes, he did.” Barreling on, Sessions said, “I don’t think that’s an impeachable offense,” as one audience member pointed out, “He threatened to withhold aid.”

Sessions’ public support for Trump comes amid rumors of him considering a repeat run for his Alabama Senate seat. Sessions resigned from his attorney general post in 2017 after falling out with Trump when he recused himself from the investigation into Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election. Sessions has not yet publicly announced a run for office. He has until Nov. 8 to do so.