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Students Protest President Elissa Tenny’s Goodbye Party in Wake of Arrests at Pro-Palestine Encampment

Why SAIC students are demanding Elissa Tenny ‘go home’

By Featured, SAIC

Student protestors are kept behind security ropes as they protest Elissa Tenny’s goodbye party. Photo by Sidne K. Gard.

On May 10, if you were near the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s MacLean building elevators around 6 P.M., you would’ve heard drumming and chanting reverberating up through the elevator shaft. 

Dozens of student protesters were in the building’s lobby protesting the outgoing SAIC President Elissa Tenny, criticizing her for her response to the 68 protestors arrested on May 4 for joining a nationwide student protest through encampments in support of Gaza. As part of this criticism, students continue to demand that SAIC be transparent about and divest any money going towards supporting Israel, including SAIC’s ties to the Crown family.

Tenny was inside the MacLean Ballroom celebrating her goodbye party. Tenny is retiring after 14 years working at SAIC and 45 years working in education. 

The protestors were not allowed into the Ballroom, but given the volume of their cries, it is very likely they could be heard throughout the goodbye party. 

Notably, this protest occurred directly inside SAIC’s property, as opposed to the May 4 encampments in the Art Institute’s garden.

SAIC security guards sectioned off ropes to keep the protesters in one area of the lobby and allow a path for other students and SAIC community members to get through. In doing so, the security packed in the student protesters much tighter than they would’ve been otherwise. Additionally, security waved photographers who stepped outside the ropes. 

Despite security’s directing of the crowd, the lobby was full of students. Many students held bright green signs reading “Disclose Investment” in large capital letters and in smaller text, “Free Palestine” and “All empires will fall.” 

The protestors filled the MacLean lobby, chanting “Let them in” to a clapping beat as they were kept out of the Ballroom. Photo by Sidne K. Gard

The various chants and demands were rhythmic, often using clapping and drumming on trash cans with water bottles to hold a beat. 

A common motif of the protest was referring to Elissa Tenny as “E.T.” This included the chant, “E. T. go home!” — a reference to the famous line “E. T. phone home” from the 1982 movie “E.T, the Extra Terrestrial.” There were homemade signs and t-shirts that depicted E. T. from the film with Elissa Tenny’s hair photoshopped onto the alien and the same slogan printed across the bottom in block letters. 

The People’s Art Institute, the student collective who organized the May 4 encampment, arranged the goodbye party protest. They posted on Instagram the same day as the party, writing, “Join us to celebrate the retirement of our dear President Elissa Tenny. We wish her the best as she moves on supporting other Imperalist, capitalist institutions and continues to suppress pro-Palestinian voices.”

The Instagram post also parodied much of the rhetoric the school uses to talk about Tenny being the first female president of SAIC, calling Tenny the “1st SAIC woman president to call the cops on her students” and “the 1st SAIC woman president to threaten the future of all student protest with disciplinary action.” 

The initial post got over 700 likes and the video The People’s Art Institute later posted of the protest afterward, as of writing, has over 500 likes. 

“So she chose to leave behind a legacy of calling the SWAT team on her students … wooow,” wrote one commenter on The People’s Art Institute’s video of the protest. 

The People’s Art Institute declined to comment when F Newsmagazine reached out to them.  

Sidne K. Gard (BFAW 2025) hopes to one day understand how to make their own monsters. They are the entertainment editor at F Newsmagazine. See more of their work at sidnekgard.com.
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