Four years ago, DePaul’s Corporate and Employer Outreach team began an informal partnership with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and three of the university’s colleges. Now, at a time when outcries against the horrors of police brutality and pleas for reform ring loud, students are speaking out against the partnership.
Over the past two weeks, members of the DePaul community — from student writing tutors to alumni and faculty — have walked out and circulated petitions to voice their concerns about the relationship between DePaul, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the FOP, and demand that it end.
It is important to note that DePaul is not alone with its collaboration with the FOP. The Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 lists 11 different schools that collaborate with or cater to its members, including Loyola, Northeastern, The University of Chicago and The University of Cincinnati. The lodge serves over 8,000 police officers in Chicago as a “collective bargaining agent” and union.
The FOP is a national organization headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Below its national leadership, it consists of local FOP lodges, like Chicago Lodge 7, which are overseen by state FOP lodges. The FOP Illinois State Lodge is located in Springfield.
The FOP’s membership consists entirely of sworn law enforcement personnel. While its goals are to help represent, educate and support those in the field of law enforcement to create a better working environment, it has long been criticized for allegations of racism in its leadership and through public statements by communities of color.
Regarding the educational programs listed on the FOP’s site, connections between the schools and the FOP vary greatly. Some, like DePaul, host their classes at the Chicago Police Academy. Others, like Trident University and Loyola, advertise classes taught online or on their own campuses with appeal to law enforcement personnel — rather than offering programs at the police academy itself. Most all of the schools listed on Lodge 7’s site offer some form of an educational discount for police officers, ranging from 15 to 100 percent off program fees and tuition.
DePaul’s programs are taught onsite at the Chicago Police Academy in the Near West Side community area. Despite this location, it is run by three of the university’s colleges — not the academy itself: the School for Continuing and Professional Studies (SCPS), the College of Law and the College of Education.
Each school offers its own degree within the program. SCPS offers a Bachelor of Arts degree completion program in business administration, the College of Law offers a Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) degree with a concentration in criminal law and the College of Education offers a Educational Leadership Doctorate (EdD) degree.
Don Opitz, interim dean for SCPS, said that these three degree cohort programs are run independently from one another. Additionally, DePaul does not have any formal contracts or agreements with the FOP, CPD or Chicago Police Academy and simply uses the building as a teaching facility as part of an “informal,” non-contractual partnership with the FOP.
“We don’t have any kind of memorandum of understanding — any kind of contract,” Opitz said. “What we’re really doing here is genuinely offering classes to a captive audience of students.”
DePaul offers a 25 percent tuition discount to those enrolled in the FOP programs. Along with a 75 percent tuition reimbursement offered by the City of Chicago, FOP members who get an “A” as their final grade can have their entire tuition for their program completely covered.
“I think an educated police officer is everybody’s best … it is society’s best thing,” said Eric Leafblad, a professor in the Law School’s MJ program at the academy. “I think the people that make mistakes are people that disregard the law out of ignorance — I mean, it happens. The more education and more training, the better the training, the better off for our society.”
Questions Over Loyalties
However, amid the protests, conversations and events following the death of George Floyd — a 46-year-old Black man who died on May 25 when a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd to the ground for almost nine minutes — not everyone at DePaul shares this positive outlook on the programs.
“It’s pro-police propaganda,” said Aneesah Shealey, a DePaul student, regarding the programs’ homepage on DePaul’s website.
Shealey discovered the programs through a friend’s Instagram story just days after protests over Floyd’s death began in Minneapolis. For her, learning about DePaul’s connection to the programs left her feeling betrayed as a Black student hurt by the deaths of Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and so many other members of the Black community from police brutality.
“I don’t think DePaul University wants it to be known that they are actively partnered with a white supremacist, terrorist organization, which is what the Chicago Police Department is,” Shealey said. “But, because they placed the money that they make from the FOP and the CPD over Black students … it doesn’t matter to them.”
For Shealey, the CPD’s history with the mass incarceration and deaths of the Black community makes DePaul’s connection to them especially disrespectful to Black students — saying that the university prioritizes its financial gain over them.
In recent years, the story of Laquan McDonald — a 17-year-old who was killed in 2014 after being shot 16 times by then-Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke — was a harrowing reminder of the city’s deep-rooted history and ongoing fight against police brutality. In 1991, former police commander Jon Burge was accused of torturing Black individuals in his custody through methods like cattle prods and mock Russian roulette. Burge pled not guilty and was convicted in 2010 of lying about the torture and sentenced to 4 1/2 years in prison. Going back further, during the 1910s, Chicago’s Black community represented just 3 percent of the city’s population but accounted for 21 percent of all deaths caused by police.
“It’s never been about Black students [at DePaul],” Shealey said. “It’s never been about Black people. It’s never been about the Black people who work for Chartwells — never been about Black professors. It’s always been about profit, and that profit comes from white supremacist terrorism [in the CPD] and poor Black communities.”
Furthermore, she says that DePaul’s partnership with the FOP also betrays its Vincentian mission. She cited Proverbs 31:8-9, which reads as follows: “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (NRSVCE)
“As a Catholic institution and, specifically, as a Vincentian institution, we have this commitment to change and … to uplifting your friends,” Shealey said. “St. Vincent de Paul … literally gave everything — his blood, sweat and tears — in order to create a world that was more equitable and that was better for all. We completely and totally defiled the idea of Vincentianism through our partner with the Fraternal Order and Chicago Police Department.”
In an emailed statement, DePaul’s interim provost Salma Ghanem recognized the pain and outrage students are feeling, though she emphasized that the university’s ties to CPD and FOP are through teaching.
“Our university is dedicated to providing students an education that is 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,” Ghanem said.
Both the CPD and FOP Chicago Lodge 7 did not respond to multiple email requests from 14 East for comment on the program, or criticism of the department and union themselves. However, in an interview with WBEZ, Lodge 7’s president John Catanzara denied the existence of systematic racism in the CPD, saying that police are “not the boogeyman that everyone makes them out to be.” He said that the criticisms about the police are “broad brush strokes” based off of “a few highlighted incidents.”
However, per Melissa Bradford, a professor in the EdD program, equity is an integral part of classes in the FOP partnership.
“Our educational leadership program is committed to equitable and socially just … efforts and environments,” Bradford said. “In all our courses, we align with educational practices that are service oriented, that are thinking through and enacting practices that will address social inequities … these students are receiving an education that is aligned with both DePaul’s mission and the College of Education mission.”
The College of Education’s website states that its mission is “to prepare educators, counselors and leaders to create more equitable, compassionate, intellectually vibrant and socially just environments.”
Bradford teaches a two-quarter class on qualitative research methods at the police academy. Out of the 25 students in her class this past quarter, she said 23 were people of color.
Over the course of her class, students are required to complete a pilot study project. The topics chosen by her students cover a wide range like the under-representation of African American females in STEM subjects and how programs like restorative justice can serve as alternatives to more punitive disciplinary actions in schools.
In the SCPS’s BA program, a similar type of mission is pursued.
“There’s like a whole range of ways in which … students that come through these programs want to be change agents,” Opitz said. “That really aligns with the spirit of reform and for benefiting the community.”
Leafblad said that these students in the FOP-partnered programs represent a diversity of ages and career accomplishments.
“We’ve had people [in the MJ program] that have been right out of their probationary period [as officers] up to people in their last few years,” Leafblad said. “I think they all get a lot out of this program … That serves the goal of what DePaul is as a university, and specifically as a law school: to educate people.”
For Opitz at the SCPS, this part most directly connects to his college’s mission.
“We’re a [college] that historically has been dedicated to social justice,” Opitz said. “We see our work with adult students as being driven by a kind of mission to serve the students that tend to not get served by the educational institutions because higher education in general … used to not be very adult friendly.”
The SCPS was founded in 1972 as DePaul’s “School for New Learning” to provide adult students access to higher education. It was restructured to be more flexible for students and given its present name in 2018.
“Campuses are not structured for, you know, the full time, working adults,” Opitz said. “We’ve always kind of seen our mission as being about providing access to education for those who would not otherwise have access.”
UCWbL Workers Stand Up
While the FOP partnership does expand the university’s educational community to police officers, it has made students like Shealey uncomfortable with their own experiences at DePaul, especially since her student employment office worked one-on-one with the EdD program.
Shealey is a student tutor at DePaul’s University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL). The UCWbL — often referred to as the “writing center” — provides many resources to help students with their writing like one-on-one consultations and workshops. They also offer the Writing Fellows Program.
This program is available by request to professors as a supplemental writing-focused assistance for their students. A group of employees from the UCWbL, called a “cohort,” are assigned to work with a specific professor’s class. Over the course of the full quarter, they work closely with those in the class to provide feedback and help with any writing-based assignments in the class.
“Our role at the center in general is to be a lever for more writing at DePaul and to support not just students … but to also support writing instruction and quality,” said Matthew Pearson, director of the UCWbL. “Basically, for instructors so that they can use writing in their teaching … in a more pedagogically-informed way and to grade writing in ways that are more aligned with best practices and research.”
The Writing Fellows Program is one way that the UCWbL accomplishes this greater mission. For the past two quarters, it has been doing so by providing a fellows cohort to Bradford’s class. For Bradford, utilizing the Writing Fellows Program was a way to encourage students to take a scholarly approach to issues relating to social justice that they’re passionate about.
“Through both the writing center tutors and the kind of feedback I give my students on their papers, we push their thinking,” she said. “We’re really helping them develop that kind of language that can speak to the academic conversations that are going on and push everybody’s knowledge and understanding so that we can create a more socially just world.”
Jacquie Michaels, one of the Writing Fellows tutors assigned to Bradford’s class, shared her experience.
“I was initially a little nervous about working with the FOP for the Writing Fellows Program,” Michaels said. “It didn’t go much further than just the nerves of uncertainty with working with adults … but my privilege as a white female prompted that I was not concerned about having interactions racially motivated.”
Ramona Avramov, head tutor and student leader at the UCWbL, assured that tutors are never forced to work with people they feel unsafe with, but Michaels pushed on. The protests over Floyd’s death became a turning point for Michaels with her work with the class.
“I had to evaluate the work I took part in and recognized that it supported an institution [the FOP] that I do not agree with whatsoever,” Michaels said. “I can say for myself and for my supervisor that the reality is that we were complacent in perpetuating a system and did not understand the weight of the issue until more light was shed on anti-Black police brutality and systemic racism because of the murder of George Floyd.”
Avramov herself had issues with the program as a Black woman.
“The problem is that DePaul on the website for this collaboration [with the FOP] … comes across as, ‘We’re excited that we’re doing this,’” she said. “That’s what’s not okay.”
Regarding the collaboration, she says that it is an especially bad time for DePaul to be putting out that type of message.
“I was never 100 percent okay with that collaboration,” Avramov said. “But, it’s because of … these recent events that it feels like it is the most inappropriate more than ever that something like this is going on — no matter what good intention the program was initially started with.”
Michaels said that, while she willingly fulfilled her assignment to the class, she stands with DePaul’s Black community.
“I want to apologize to my fellow Black tutors and students who are hurt by my and the Writing Center’s association with the FOP, and we support you, not them,” she said.
Calls for Change
Avramov and Pearson say that no major concerns were raised regarding this situation until May 30, when employees at the UCWbL began circulating a petition on Change.org, an online website that allows for petitions to be easily created, shared and signed, for the UCWbL to immediately sever its ties with the FOP partnered program.
Shealey was one of the student employees who orchestrated the petition with her colleague Patricia Haney. The petition began on the afternoon of May 30 and went through revisions before it was dispersed via social media, email and messaging to UCWbL workers and the greater DePaul community. It has since received almost 500 signatures.
While there was some question among UCWbL employees over the best way to achieve their demands, those interviewed said the petition received unanimous support from their coworkers.
That night, Pearson met with his staff to negotiate their demands, but was unable to meet them satisfactorily. Thus, they turned to a different approach: a virtual walkout.
“At first, I was like … we could be lenient and not [walk out],” Shealey said. “But … we literally as students and as Americans watched police lynch a man in the street … This is not a fight where we can afford to give leniency to oppressive forces.”
Though Pearson was not able to meet the initial demands, he understood what his staff was standing up for.
“I felt like people are outraged over the justice in America, over the killing of George Floyd in particular, Laquan McDonald, Breonna Taylor,” Pearson said. “The community with which some police are treated and … the Fraternal Order of Police as a union — the role it plays in protecting police when they are accused of crime.”
The walk-out officially began late into the night on May 30. While DePaul student employees are working remotely until July 17, UCWbL employees have still been conducting consultations via Zoom and other digital means. Thus, while not physically being able to walk out, UCWbL employees made a collective effort to not log in for their scheduled shifts, thereby “walking out.”
Conversations between Pearson and his staff continued amid the walkout as the two groups worked to come to a resolution. Pearson also held conversations with Ghanem, as well as his supervisors to help meet demands. Meanwhile, the petitioners worked to amend their own demands.
By 10 p.m. the following day, those amended demands were met, and the walk-out ended. The Writing Fellows cohort continued to work with Bradford’s class until the end of the quarter. Meanwhile, UCWbL administrators began to work with their employees to address the concerns raised with the petition. While this work is ongoing, Pearson says it is aimed at ensuring that the UCWbL remains a “safe place to work” while fulfilling the commitment of the Writing Fellows program to assist students and professors in their work.
On June 2 — the Tuesday after the petition went out, a group representing the UCWbL’s movement met with Ghanem themselves to express their concerns and advocate for change. Avramov and Shealey were two of those in the meeting.
Both left the meeting feeling hopeful of continued university-wide discourse regarding their concerns.
Since the meeting, Ghanem has reached out to senior administration and the university’s deans for further discussion and to hear their perspectives and viewpoints. However, she says that her focus is “not on the partnership, but rather on the students [DePaul teaches].”
An Open Letter to Administration
Meanwhile, a second student- and faculty-led response to DePaul’s ties to the FOP and CPD began circulating around campus and the greater DePaul community.
Gil Morejón, DePaul alumnus and adjunct professor, joined a group effort to write an open letter to DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban. While not directly connected to the UCWbL’s efforts, it played an influential role in the letter’s drafting.
“The writing center [UCWbL] walkout was definitely inspirational for us,” Morejón said. “The bulk of the letter was written by one person in particular, but there were additions made. There was a group of four of us who workshopped it over the course of a day.”
One way in which the results of the UCWbL walkout influenced the letter was through the resolution that it would continue to provide writing-based assistance to the EdD program until the end of the academic year. Morejón and the rest of the team behind the letter took an approach that more closely resembles the UCWbL’s original demands, calling for the university to “[sever] all ties to the Chicago Police Department immediately.”
Outside of the UCWbL petition, they decry the statement that Esteban issued on May 29 — a response to the protest aimed to express the university’s solidarity with the Black community. The open letter written by Morejón and his team claims that the president put the destruction of DePaul property that occurred during the downtown protests over Floyd’s death before the safety of its Black students. It also says that Esteban “reaffirm[ed] DePaul’s intention to work with CPD” by stating that the university would be working with the CPD to assess and repair the damage.
They are not alone in calling out the president’s letter, which begins by listing out the names of well-known police brutality victims. Shortly after its initial release, several people noticed that one of those victims was misnamed. Eric Garner — who died in 2014 after being placed in a chokehold by a white police officer — was listed as “Eric Ferguson.”
It’s unclear why or how the mistake was made. However, it is speculated that it could have been the result of confusion between Garner’s story and the protests and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, over the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by a white police officer. Both events took place in 2014. The letter was reissued within hours with the correct name.
“We apologize for the error,” university spokesperson Carol Hughes told The DePaulia. “University Marketing and Communications, which proofread the text, deeply regret their mistake.”
Aside from the demands listed in the open letter, Morejón has his own personal hopes for change, saying that he hopes to see the BA program in the FOP partnership ended as well. When asked about the other degrees in the partnership, he said that he wasn’t aware of the exact details about those but believes his feelings would be the same towards them.
But, for Morejón, it doesn’t stop there.
“The university should ban CPD presence at on-campus protests organized by members of the university community,” he said. “I’d like to see the university cancel all contracts with CPD for supplemental at sporting events, concerts and other large events hosted by the university community or at university facilities.”
He says these views take additional inspiration from the University of Minnesota’s decision to cut its ties with the Minneapolis Police Department.
The Letter’s Response
Regarding the open letter, he says it has received very supportive reactions from members of the DePaul community.
“It was widely shared on social media on which … there were lots of comments that were overwhelmingly positive,” Morejón said. “It seems to be the case that people just by and large agree that this is a timely and important move for the university to make.”
On June 3, the open letter was sent to Esteban, Ghanem, the university’s deans and the members of the Board of Trustees. The letter currently has over 2,000 signatures.
At the time of his interview on June 4, Morejón said that they had only received one response. It came from Opitz. Morejón has not responded to 14 East since his interview regarding any further updates.
“I believe that dialogue [encouraged by the letter] in the context that we’re all dealing with right now is of vital importance,” Opitz said in an interview with 14 East. “We have to be talking. We can’t be silent.”
Inspired by the open letter and the UCWbL’s petition, Opitz and the rest of the faculty at SCPS have initiated dialogues centered around their work with police officers. The conversations are still in their infancy, but he said they have a meeting lined up in the coming weeks focused on the issue and that the conversations are ongoing.
However, for some, the open letter and petition struck an emotional response. In a letter addressed to Ghanem and shared with 14 East, a police officer in one of the FOP programs expressed her response to the calls around campus to sever ties. Ghanem said she received the officer’s permission to share the letter, but did not give the officer’s name.
“As I read the message [about the calls for ties to be severed], I sit here in tears while on patrol,” she said. “I want nothing more than to live in a just world for all … One officer’s actions or even that of some of my own department members do not speak to the person I am and the values that I am instilling in my children.”
She said her daughter has been active in protests across the city.
“As a CPD Latina, I am proud to be who I am and, for the past 12 years have worked tirelessly throughout my career to make a difference,” she said. “While my tears may not replace those of mothers grieving the loss of child by a senseless killing … by an officer, what I write today I write with pain on my heart.”
Ghanem gave her own feedback to the calls.
“We understand that this request [to sever ties] is rooted in pain, outrage and the desire to take a stand against police brutality,” she said. “We need to remember, though, that the actions of a few do not represent the students we teach.”
She further quoted the university’s Vincentian values, its mission to provide education to all and its dedication to DePaul’s Black community.
“Black Lives Matter,” Ghanem said. “We know that 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.”
Opitz personally believes that the best way to address the concerns raised by the DePaul community isn’t to sever the university’s ties but to become more involved.
“I think we need to engage with the institutions that need to reform,” Opitz said.
For him, the benefit of SCPS’s program is visible.
“I’ve personally observed students who’ve come through these programs, and I personally watched them shift,” Opitz said. “Our programs are intended to be transformational. And, even for members of an institution that we know needs work and needs reform, I’ve watched those individuals shift during their time with us.”
He believes that the program provides a unique opportunity to approach issues.
“There’s a lot that I think we don’t talk about regarding the police experience that you can only really get insight into when you’re working with them in an educational environment,” he said. “I would hate to see that good work stop because … we think that the only way forward is to sever ties.”
Opitz said that he sees these “shifts” most clearly exhibited through the capstone projects required for graduation from the program. He said students have tackled issues like community action and better involving communities in policing, as well as the war on drugs and why cannabis should be legalized.
In the MJ program, Leafblad said a more direct, in-the-field approach is taken.
“What we’re trying to do in this program is to educate these officers on what is the law, what is appropriate,” Leafblad said.
Leafblad serves as the director of the continuing legal education and training department for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and has served 25 years as an assistant state’s attorney for Cook County.
“Regardless of … the current situation, I mean, there’s people that commit heinous crimes every day,” Leafblad said. “We want to make sure the guilty are held responsible for what they do … because there’s so much discretion that based upon, you know, the whole decision whether to arrest or not. We want our officers to know what is a good case and what is a bad case because even bringing charges against somebody could ruin their life.”
Leafblad said that students in the MJ program learn about Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights, as well as the process of an arrest. They are also additionally required to take classes like Policing Special Populations (Law 376) and Policing in the 21st Century: Law, Compliance and Technology (Law 377), which are geared towards making officers more aware and prepared in their line of work and knowledgeable about the law.
“I think education is the most important thing we can have through society, and that includes our police officers,” Leafblad said.
He said that class material approaches the issues currently being raised regarding police officers.
“We talk about wrongful convictions in my class and how everybody has a duty to be on the lookout for that,” Leafblad said. “The officers have used this in their work, and I’ve made better cases. You know, and that includes letting people go.”
Despite being housed in the Chicago Police Academy, Leafblad says that the only influence the academy or CPD have in influencing the programs curriculum is a hands-off one.
“The curriculum is still run by the DePaul law school,” he said. “There’s been some input from, you know, what would be attractive to the students … they’ve been talking to the professors on that kind of thing.”
What Can Be Done
Beyond the petition and open letter, Shealey said there are ways DePaul students can begin creating movements of their own to support their Black peers.
“The easiest way to start these initiatives is to listen to Black students and listen to people of color,” she said. “That’s the easiest way. Listening and acknowledging the fact that this society is stacked up against Black people and people of color is so important to beginning the foundations of anti-racist work.”
Additionally, education and speaking out play a part.
“I think just by constantly being aware, constantly being willing to educate yourself more and more about this situation [is important],” she said. “But, also … being unafraid of standing up.”
However, it doesn’t stop there.
“Then, after you lay the ground for that, you have to be consistent in your anti-racism,” she said. “You can’t just pick and choose when you get to be anti-racist. You are either anti-racist, or you’re a racist.”
According to the Ontario Anti-Racism secretary, “Anti-racism is the practice of identifying, challenging, and changing the values, structures and behaviors that perpetuate systemic racism.” Rather than just looking at racism at the individual level, anti-racism seeks to approach things on a broader community and systematic level.
Student-led efforts to demand DePaul cut ties with CPD have continued. On June 10, a group of DePaul student organizations held a protest on the university’s Quad focused on DePaul’s relationships with the CPD and FOP, among other demands.
Morejón also shared ways to be vocal and advocate for anti-racist changes on campus at a time when most DePaul students are not on campus.
“I’d encourage students who care about this as well to participate in whatever sort of protest activities and mutual aid efforts are happening in their local communities,” he said.
Regarding ways DePaul students can communicate topics like police brutality to administration, Avramov gave some advice for how best to approach those conversations.
“Just being transparent in however you’re presenting your ideals, your ideas,” she said. “Even if you’re coming to someone — even a DePaul administrator who might not be on board with your ideas at first — not only displaying them transparently, but also doing so with respect.”
Shealey believes that taking action is important for creating change.
“We can’t get anywhere … if we’re not going at our full capacity,” she said. “You can’t half-ass being an ally, you have to 100 percent be in it. So, being committed and being open to learn, I think, are the best ways to move forward.”
For those who wish to become more educated in the anti-racist movement, Simmons University in Boston, Massachusetts, has compiled an in-depth anti-racism guide with educational videos, articles, ally guides and crisis resources for people of color.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story didn’t introduce Ramona Avramov, head tutor and student leader at the UCWbL. A change has been made to reflect this.
Header illustration by Justin Myers, 14 East
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story listed incorrect research topics for the students in the Educational Leadership program. It also said that UWCbL would stop working with the program at the end of the year. That was incorrect. Changes have been made to reflect both errors.