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News / Northwest

Evergreen State to explore Israel divestment after deal with students

By Catalina Gaitán, The Seattle Times
Published: May 3, 2024, 7:52am

SEATTLE — Protesters at The Evergreen State College in Olympia agreed to remove their week-old encampment Tuesday night after striking a deal with administrators that includes the school publicly calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war and exploring divestment from companies that profit from “the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Three school administrators and four members of the Evergreen Gaza Solidarity Encampment signed a memorandum of understanding at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday after five hours of negotiating inside Evans Hall.

As part of the deal, protesters agreed to remove their encampment by 5 p.m. Wednesday or face sanctions by the university. The encampment was cleared by that deadline, said college spokesperson Farra Hayes.

The agreement made Evergreen the latest in a small group of colleges including Brown and Northwestern to see a deal between student protesters and school administrators, as students and faculty members stage similar encampments on other U.S. campuses including at the University of Washington. Protests calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory have also recently popped up at other Washington schools such as Gonzaga University in Spokane.

At UCLA, Columbia University and other schools, students and faculty members have been arrested and had their encampments raided by police.

Evergreen school administrators will review whether to change any study abroad programs or investments as a result of the memorandum, Hayes said.

The encampment appeared on April 23 at the campus’s Red Square after some students left classes and staged a rally. Several students met with school administrators later that day and presented their first list of demands in writing the next day, Hayes said.

Both sides continued negotiating until convening for the final time Tuesday under the supervision of three Evergreen faculty members.

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“Having it remain peaceful and not escalate like we’re seeing elsewhere — we’re full of a lot of gratitude for students who were willing to engage that way,” Hayes said. “It’s really a testament to our academic approach, that if you sit down and you talk, you can find solutions.”

Alex Marshall, a third-year student at Evergreen who was one of the four students to sign the four-page memorandum, agreed.

“In the weeklong period that the encampment was up, no student was arrested, no student was harassed by police and no student has been written up with policy violations,” Marshall said. “We’re incredibly happy that everyone is safe and that we were able to get through this process without our students having to face police violence.”

The students’ final list of demands was crafted throughout the week by reaching a consensus during meetings at the encampment, Marshall said.

The memorandum includes creating four “disappearing task forces” with three students and two faculty members each.

One committee will look at the school to revise its investment policies to consider divesting from companies that “profit from gross human rights violations and/or the occupation of Palestinian territories.” A second committee will create a policy for refusing grant funding tied to “illegal occupation abroad” or that limit free speech or oppress minorities, according to the memorandum.

The two committees will make policy recommendations by fall 2024, after which the college will consider implementing them no later than spring 2026.

Two other committees will propose creating a new structure for the school’s Police Services Community Review Board, which has oversight of Evergreen’s police officers, by fall 2026, and a nonpolice response model for responding to people in crisis by 2030, the memorandum states.

As part of the agreement, John Carmichael, president of The Evergreen State College, will email a statement expressing his desire for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the release of all hostages and expansion of humanitarian aid into the region. The college also agreed not to approve study abroad programs in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank while the conflict continues or programs to regions where students could be barred based on their Jewish or Palestinian identity.

Meanwhile, two encampments appeared this week at the University of Washington, both run by pro-Palestinian protesters calling on the school’s administration to cut financial and academic ties with Israel and Boeing.

UW administrators have so far said little in public about the encampments.

“We continue to monitor the situation and will respond as appropriate to maintain a safe and secure environment for our campus community,” UW spokesperson Victor Balta said Wednesday.

Evergreen school administrators may have been more amenable to students’ demands because of Rachel Corrie, who was a 23-year-old Evergreen student when she was crushed by an Israeli military bulldozer while she and others sought to protect a Palestinian home from being demolished in the Gaza border town of Rafah, Marshall said.

“A lot of the Olympia community got really involved in Palestinian activism and I think that the community and some aspects of Evergreen’s culture have been affected by that,” Marshall said. “I hope that we can serve as a model to other schools in thinking about how they are going to approach coming to the table with their own students.”