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Loyola students face discipline after protest

A disciplinary hearing held Monday morning involving four Loyola University Chicago students accused of taking an on-campus demonstration for workers’ rights too far presents school officials with a quandary because social justice is a deep-rooted part of the Catholic school’s ethos.

During a Nov. 20 demonstration in support of increased wages and health benefits for food services workers, the students approached a manager for Aramark — the company Loyola contracts with to run its cafeterias — to voice their demands.

The students allegedly “disrupted operations and targeted and harassed a member of the Aramark staff” and possibly violated school rules pertaining to “disruptive and disorderly conduct” and “harassment and bullying,” university spokesman Steven Christensen said in an email.

After a four and a half hour meeting, school officials said they will deliberate and release any disciplinary measures by Thursday, said Lillian Osborne, a senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, one of the four students facing discipline.

The students face possible probation or suspension for disruptive and disorderly conduct.

“Our character has been questioned publicly, and our integrity has been questioned publicly,” Osborne said.

She said the students had a “respectful dialogue” with the Aramark manager during a slow portion of the afternoon between lunch and dinner.

“We believe that we’re staying strong in our convictions that workers deserve dignified working conditions and respect and we’re continuing to call on Loyola to fulfill its Jesuit mission,” Osborne said. “It’s not easy to follow social justice dictates, but the university needs to rise to the occasion and do what is difficult and what it right.”

The hearing was held steps from where the protest occurred weeks earlier on the university’s Lakefront Campus.

A letter supporting the students that was addressed to John P. Pelissero, the interim president of the university, was signed by dozens of faith leaders from Chicago, including the Rev. Clete Kiley, director of immigration policy for UNITE HERE — a national hotel and restaurant workers union that represents Loyola’s food service workers — and serves as an adviser to Archbishop Blase Cupich.

Classmates and members of ARISE Chicago, a faith-based coalition that fights for workers’ rights, rallied around the four students Monday morning as they headed into their disciplinary meeting.

The Rev. Matthew O’Donnell, who graduated from Loyola in 2008 and serves as pastor at St. Columbanus on the South Side, said the students shouldn’t be punished for practicing what they’ve been taught.

“They are doing exactly what they have been taught, for some of them who are seniors, the last three and half years they have been here,” said O’Donnell, who escorted the four students to their hearing.

“Our faith is meant to inspire us to work for justice and to stand in solidarity with those who are oppressed, to stand in solidarity with those who don’t have a voice, and that’s exactly what these students are doing, so they’re living out the mission that they’re taught here,” O’Donnell said.