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On-Field Protest Interrupts Northwestern vs. Iowa Football Game

The protesters held handmade banners calling to abolish the Northwestern University Police Department, among other demands.

EVANSTON, Ill — Nine protesters rushed the field at the end of the first half of Northwestern's 17-12 loss to No. 19 Iowa on Saturday night.

Nine protesters took the field to display handmade signs during the first half of Northwestern vs. Iowa on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Photo by Lauren Withrow)

Nine protesters took the field to display handmade signs during the first half of Northwestern vs. Iowa on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Photo by Lauren Withrow)

The protesters displayed hand-made signs that read "ABOLISH NUPD INVEST IN BLACK LIVES," "STOP FUNDING THE WAR ON PALESTINE," "DIVEST FROM DEATH," and more. NUPD refers to the Northwestern University Police Department. 

After several minutes of game delay, an individual dressed in Iowa gear also rushed the field and ran through the signs, bringing some to the ground. The individual used an obscene hand gesture while exiting the field and then stood behind the endzone with his arms raised, encouraging a fan response. 

Once the individual dressed in Iowa gear left the field, security began to close in on the protesters, who then dropped their signs and exited the field through the south end zone.

Following the game, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald told reporters that his first focus "is the health, safety, and well-being of our student athletes."

"There's an arena for the athletes, the officials, the coaches and those that are supposed to be in it," Fitzgerald continued. "Any time that that gets compromised, it gives you pause, and you have great care and concern. I don't know if anybody saw, but that's all I was focused on was trying to keep our guys away."

Fitzgerald shifted gears to talk about Bryan Heinz, a former Northwestern defensive back who served in the United States Military in Afghanistan and was honored by the program this weekend.

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Twitter accounts for a handful of student-run organizations are claiming responsibility for the protest. The organizations include NU Community Not Cops, Students for Social Justice in Palestine, Northwestern Graduate Workers, Fossil Free Northwestern, NU Dissenters, and Students Organizing for Labor Rights.

Northwestern Community Not Cops — a student organization that advocates for divestment in police systems for investment in Black communities — presented a list of demands on Twitter. The list includes meetings between students and the Northwestern Board of Trustees, resources that protect survivors of sexual violence, and more. 

Northwestern University Leadership addressed Saturday's protest in an official statement on Tuesday night, which included the following statement:

"Our demonstration policy states that Northwestern 'encourages freedom of speech, freedom of inquiry, freedom of dissent and freedom to demonstrate in a peaceful fashion.' Demonstrations, conducted within our guidelines and policies, advance the conversation about how to improve our campuses and our world. We strongly protect such expression, while we simultaneously recognize our collective obligation to respect the rights of all individuals ­– protestors and observers alike."

"Our demonstration policy is designed to prevent the harm or harassment of our community members as they conduct their business. Under the policy, demonstrations may not infringe upon the rights of others, endanger the safety of individuals or disrupt University operations or events."

"As an example, entering the field of play during athletic competition – as occurred last Saturday during the Northwestern-Iowa football game at Ryan Field – presents unique challenges for the safety and well-being of all involved. This represents a violation of our demonstration policy and will require the University to move promptly to end any such disruptions and hold individuals accountable. Ramifications can potentially involve suspension, expulsion or legal consequences as appropriate."

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