The sprawling green field at Deering Meadow on Northwestern University’s campus in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, hasn’t been looking the way it usually does. Except for the occasional group of frisbee players or picnic, the field is usually bare. Since April 25, it’s been occupied by peaceful pro-Palestine protesters, tents, tarps and camping stakes, and cases of water. Organizers called it the NU Liberated Zone. What’s stood out the most is the collage of green, red and black handmade posters, each filled with messages of solidarity across cultural, religious and ethnic boundaries. Some signs were in other languages such as Spanish and Arabic. Others were made from pizza boxes. They lined the outside fence facing Sheridan Road.

Their primary demands were clear: protect students’ civil liberties and safety, end partnerships tied to Israeli institutions that support the war in Gaza, and divest from industries and companies that fund the war. In the end, however, the university took some steps to meet some demands, but not without the activists making significant compromises. 

After a five-day encampment in support of Palestine, the Northwestern Divestment Coalition (NDC) reached an agreement on April 29. Under the new deal, the university will take steps to provide support for pro-Palestinian and Arab spaces and allow peaceful demonstrations — from members of the NU community — on Deering Meadow until the final day of spring quarter classes on June 1.

Northwestern students and organizers camped out and protested their support of Gaza on April 25, 2024. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

In return, NDC agreed to dismantle the majority of the encampment, keeping only one tent for aid and supplies on the meadow, and only using approved sound devices. 

However, the agreement doesn’t say if Northwestern will divest from its pro-Israel partnerships. Instead, the university says it will answer any questions from internal stakeholders about its current investments. The university also agreed to immediately provide a space for Middle Eastern, North African and Muslim students on campus. They agreed to renovate a house on campus for them by 2026. 

Activists’ sentiments about the agreement were mixed, especially among people who weren’t in the negotiation room. While some students considered it a step toward progress, others were upset that the university didn’t concede to a full divestment. Activists insist their efforts will continue.

“Even if we got full divestment, this wasn’t going to be over,” Northwestern senior Jordan Muhammad, who helped organize the encampment, said during a speech at the encampment after news of the agreement first came out. “We need to open up our imaginations. We need to build our skills, build our knowledge, build our organization. We will do that with tents or no tents.” 

Early on April 25, Northwestern students, faculty and community members started camping out at Deering Meadow. They demanded the university to disclose and cut ties with Israeli institutions and industries that fund the war in Gaza. They also sought more protections for pro-Palestinian voices on campus. They joined a reported 50 other colleges holding encampments across the country in protest of the war.

Organizers estimated that about 50 students came out to set up a dozen tents that morning. By April 29, there were over 100 tents. Organizers say as many as 1,500 students visited the rallies and protests daily.  

“There’s been such a culture of looking out for each other,” Isabelle Butera, a Northwestern junior who helped organize the encampment, told The TRiiBE. “The power of the people has kept us safe.”

Around 1500 students and community members came to show their solidarity with Palestine at Northwestern University on April 25, 2024. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Shortly after setting up tents on April 25, protesters were almost kicked out by the Northwestern University Police Department (NUPD). Organizers formed a human blockade by linking arms to keep the police out. 

A couple hours after the activists set up camp, Northwestern University President Michael Schill added new rules for student demonstrations on campus. The new policy bans tents except for university-approved events. Outdoor sound devices like bullhorns also have to be approved. 

On other days, counter-protesters supporting Israel interrupted pro-Palestine rallies at the meadow multiple times. Police haven’t made any arrests or written any citations during the encampment. That hasn’t been the case on other campuses around the country, however. According to AP News, there have been almost 1,000 arrests nationwide at colleges such as the University of Texas at Austin and Columbia University.

In Evanston, as tents, Palestinian flags and posters started to come down on April 29, organizers and volunteers reflected on the community building that united thousands of Northwestern students in spaces of care and mutual aid.

“They set up a food tent. They set up a medical tent,” said Zach Farber, an organizer with the Chicago chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. He helped bring food and supplies into the encampment. 

“It’s almost like a little village. A tent city that’s popped up here,” he said.

This “tent city” also had an area for Muslim prayer, a tent for water, a tent for extra blankets, and a podium with speakers and microphones for visitors. Participating Jewish students held a seder for Passover. The encampment featured guest speakers and performances from clubs such as the university’s Mariachi band and Middle Eastern and North African Student Associations.

Farber said a lot of the encampment’s food supply came from member dues and community donations to organizations like his. He has also gone out to pick up cash donations, blankets and food from family and friends. He said the strong mutual aid helped keep the encampment running through unpredictable weather that brought on rain, cold and heat.

Northwestern students and organizers provided food, water, and medical supplies for pro-Palestine protesters on campus on April 25, 2024. Photo by Ash Lane for The TRiiBE®

Organizers say people donated so much that they had to stop receiving donations. The extra food, drinks and supplies will be donated to food pantries.

“People are setting up camps that are completely self-sustained by the community,” Farber told The TRiiBE.

Throughout the encampment, some people camped out all day and even overnight. Butera slept at the encampment the night of April 25. She remembers it being very cold and she worried about getting arrested first thing in the morning. While she didn’t get much sleep, friends and even strangers provided moral support to keep her going.

“The thing I swear that has kept me going is the people around me,” Butera told The TRiiBE. “I have not felt this loved and taken care of by so many people perhaps ever in my life. I will pass random people and they’ll ask, ‘Have you slept? Are you doing ok?’”

Journalism professor Steven Thrasher was there when the police tried to take down the encampment on the morning of April 25. He joined students in blocking police from entering and visited the encampment several times as a support resource. 

Thrasher gave a speech to students, calling for more compassionate reporting on pro-Palestinian protests and the war in Gaza. He said it was important to speak out in support of students, many of whom feared arrest or punishment from the administration. 

“I feel like I’m doing what my job should be,” Thrasher told The TRiiBE. “I want to be one of the first people to take any retaliation. I want to protect students.”

Students from various backgrounds and clubs came together to protest, make art, build shelters, pick up trash and enjoy music. The encampment forged bonds between people who probably otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths on campus or in life. A powerful sense of camaraderie in protest cut through the typical rush of midterms toward the end of the spring trimester.

is a student journalist at Northwestern University.