A student organizer discusses a campaign to end the relationship between police and the nation’s largest Catholic university.
At Chicago’s DePaul University, the nation’s largest Catholic university, while some students are breaking for summer, student activist coalitions are planning for a summer of continual struggle on campus to demand that the university end its relationship with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).
The university’s ongoing partnership with the FOP Chicago Lodge 7 invites members to pursue a degree in business administration, criminology (a program under the law school), or education (a doctorate program that allows graduates to become School Resource Officers). Cops who receive a DePaul education can do so entirely at the Chicago Police Academy on the West Side where classes are held. Additionally, they may be fully reimbursed for it depending on their grades. DePaul refunds 25 percent of the cost of tuition for qualifying cops and the city of Chicago covers the other 75 percent. So while DePaul students incur massive debt for receiving education DePaul ensures that cops don’t have to pay. Perhaps even our tuition dollars are used to give free degrees to racist cops.
This “noncontractual “relationship began fairly recently in 2016 yet many students are only discovering its existence now during the current Black Lives Matter struggle. The relationship between the university and the organization is a part of the program DePaul has with multiple local businesses, called the Chicago Cohort, in which employees are encouraged to continue their education at DePaul.
DePaul students began organizing around this during the beginning of June when the university’s writing center workers staged a virtual walkout to demand that they no longer service FOP members looking for help with papers, documents, and research. Though students’ demands were denied by the school’s Interim Provost Salma Ghanem, the walkout received widespread support across the student body.
Then a student activist group, the DePaul Socialists, hosted a rally and protest on June 10th in which they shut down Fullerton Avenue demanding that the university divest from the FOP, stop educational programs at the Chicago Police Academy, and end all programs that support and expand policing. This includes the School Resource Officer program offered by the College of Education and disbanding the criminology department. Further, students demand the money that went into this program be redirected to Black and brown students’ needs on campus, including the funding of the African and Black Diaspora Studies program. Another student-led protest with the same concerns took place Saturday, June 27th.
In response to student resistance, the university has taken a placating stance in their most recent newsletter to the DePaul community. In the letter, Ghanem argues that the university must educate police officers in values of social justice and equality to help end police brutality. She states:
Our university is dedicated to providing students an education imbued with Vincentian values of social justice and transforming society to serve the most vulnerable. We are called to provide access to high-quality education to all. Black Lives Matter. We know George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Laquan McDonald, and so many others should still be alive. We also know education can be part of making the change we all want to see in police departments. We support all who are working to make police reform a reality.
The terrible irony of invoking Vincentian values to protect cops who regularly persecute the most vulnerable in society in order to counter a movement that is closer to said values than anything DePaul is doing right now is hilarious at best. DePaul has to be aware of this, which would explain why they spent the rest of the newsletter covering their tracks with a statement from a token anonymous “CPD Latina” who received her education through DePaul’s Chicago Cohort program with the FOP.
DePaul students saw right through this almost as soon as the newsletter went live, calling out the university on Twitter for trying to race-bait and not-all-cops their way out of responsibility for their actions. Students are aware that if DePaul actually cared about protecting the most vulnerable they would own up to the fact that police brutality is not a symptom of police incompetence or lack of reform but of systemic oppression. Ghanem chose not to provide an extensive quote from one of the many people brutalized by CPD every year.
Police can take “How to Not Kill Black and Brown People 101” classes for the rest of their lives but it would not change the fact that we live in a capitalist society where poverty is criminalized and where police were founded to catch runaway slaves and break strikes. There can be no meaningful social justice until all police are abolished (and yes that means “CPD Latina” should quit her job, too).
The demands of students could not be more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. DePaul students were forced off campus housing, putting many at risk of homelessness or abusive households. Others were abruptly fired with no pay from their university jobs and forced to either miss rent or risk their lives becoming essential workers.
There are students who are even worse off who have been entirely left out of DePaul’s statement—the incarcerated students at Cook County Jail and Statesville prison where DePaul offers classes with its Inside Out program. In this program non-incarcerated students take classes in prisons alongside incarcerated students. Multiple news outlets have covered the devastating state that prisons are currently in during the pandemic. Prisoners are left without any PPE, they are often denied medical care, and they are not given any chance to socially distance. Students have implored the university since the beginning of this crisis to address the situation yet our requests have fallen on deaf ears. How is leaving the most vulnerable students to die in a jail cell in step with Vincentian values?
On top of this, DePaul did not discount students on their tuition while they could not meet in person and will be raising the price for the following school year to compensate for the number of students who are leaving school because they can no longer afford it. But while we pay, administration continues to provide free tuition for cops. At a time when students are being crushed under the weight of student loans and the impending global recession, the fact that cops in Chicago get free (if not heavily discounted) tuition at DePaul can only be seen as a slap in the face. DePaul is directly complicit in devaluing Black lives. Through their affiliations they have put themselves in this conversation and they cannot shield themselves from the backlash with “CPD Latina.” If the saying goes “silent cops are guilty too,” then so are silent universities.
One can only speculate why DePaul is sustaining their relationship with police, which they don’t make much money off. Alumna and freelance journalist Kelly Garcia suggested on Twitter that this is due to ties the administrative board of the university has with the police. Top donors to the university include powerful Chicagoans such as Mary Dempsey, principal of DePaul College Prep, who donated $50,000 to her close friend Lori Lightfoot’s mayoral campaign. Dempsey is not alone; several donors have connections to large investment firms such as Citadel LLC (owned by the richest man in Illinois) or Berkshire Hathaway which also have financial or political interests in sustaining the police force as it is.
However, regardless of why DePaul is keeping this relationship with the FOP, they have made it clear that they are willing to use hollow moralistic arguments and tokenization to silence student organizers. More than anything this is a time when community organizers and activists in Chicago need to stand alongside college abolitionists in the shared struggle to defund CPD. Universities are well connected and powerful institutions in city politics that can greatly influence the city council to disband the police department, as evidenced by the University of Minneapolis that cut ties with MPD following pressure from students and the community. Campus and community activist groups must unite struggles if we are to win.
Fae Robertson is a revolutionary socialist organizing with the DePaul Socialists and a senior at DePaul University studying history and political theory.