Handling of NFL Draft sparks student outrage, protest

By Taylor Hall, video by Beth Werge

As the world watched the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft on Thursday live from inside Roosevelt University’s historic Auditorium Theatre, students outside protested the university’s facilitation of resources for the draft.

“People are putting corporate greed before student need,” said Lupita Carrasquillo, organizer for Roosevelt University’s RISE organization focusing on social justice issues. “The NFL is a $9 billion corporation. They have a lot of money, and they asked for free access of our facility, of our venue. They’ve taken a floor in each of our university buildings–the fourth floor of the Wabash building, and the second floor of the auditorium building. They’ve blocked off an entire entrance.”

RISE members said they thought the university’s partnership with the NFL contradicted the school’s social justice values, and were upset that the school had turned its spaces over to the NFL during finals and graduation, with little to no student input.

In a 2014 letter negotiating the terms of the draft’s move to Chicago, NFL director of events Eric Finkelstein requested free use of the Auditorium Theatre, the Chicago Club Terrace, Congress Plaza and Grant Park.

No further information regarding the City’s contract with the NFL has been released, and Roosevelt University students said communication from the administration has been far from transparent. “It’s been sucky. Super sucky,” said Manisha Virupannavar, a Roosevelt University student who took a final Thursday and is scheduled to take two more this weekend. “It’s been so hard to get around school.”

Students said they were upset over the administration’s evasiveness on the funding of the draft, which they said  was indicative of other issues, such as financial aid policies.

Carrasquillo, a social justice major,  said the university estimated at least $100 thousand worth in renovations to the theater in preparation for the draft.  “So who’s paying for that?” she said. “There just hasn’t been a lot of transparency about that. We don’t know whether that money is coming from taxpayers or students.”

“I find this to be rather problematic that they have all these folks in this university’s space without contributing anything to the university community,” said Jeff Uehlinger, a 21-year-old University of Illinois at Chicago student, who joined the protest in solidarity with the Roosevelt students.

Founded in 1945,  Roosevelt University was established as independent, nonsectarian and coeducational institution, and includes “educating socially conscious citizens” in its mission statement today.

Roosevelt University’s 2015 graduation commencement ceremony at the Auditorium Theatre was pushed from May 1 to May 9 in order to accommodate the NFL Draft. Students began finals April 28, just two days before the draft, with finals scheduled to continue throughout this weekend until Monday.

Students at the protest also shared stories of run-ins with NFL security teams inside university buildings.

“Today I heard one of the NFL security guards in the elevator call someone stupid,” said Roosevelt student Jocelyn Castro. “I’m not sure why. If the university let them in, they should at least respect the people here.”

“I encountered a student with a disability, and [the NFL] closed off one of the elevators she usually uses,” Carrasquillo said. “And they told her to go to another one, but it’s not wheelchair accessible. She told them that, and they said ‘Not our problem.’”

When asked about the university’s social justice values and its partnership with the NFL, Thomas Karow, assistant vice president for public relations at Roosevelt said:

“I’m not going to get into the details of all that, but I can say we’ve had a number of meetings with the students and explained the situation to them. And if they’ve decided to protest, that’s their right.”