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News / Clark County News

WSU Vancouver students peacefully protest war in Gaza, want school to divest from ties to Israel

Group made an effort to not disrupt finals while still hoping to be heard by administrators

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: May 3, 2024, 3:50pm
2 Photos
A small group of pro-Palestinian student protestors led daily marches and rallies at Washington State University Vancouver throughout this week, calling for an end to violence in Gaza. Students leading the group said they want WSU administration to end or re-examine its financial ties to companies who fund Israeli military efforts.
A small group of pro-Palestinian student protestors led daily marches and rallies at Washington State University Vancouver throughout this week, calling for an end to violence in Gaza. Students leading the group said they want WSU administration to end or re-examine its financial ties to companies who fund Israeli military efforts. (Griffin Reilly/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A small group of students at Washington State University Vancouver this week joined nationwide student protests calling for a cease-fire in Gaza and asking university leaders to divest from companies with financial ties to Israel.

The group, made up of a dozen or so students, has been holding daily marches and rallies on the Salmon Creek campus.

“Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest!” protesters chanted Friday.

Kiara Reyes Ramirez, one of the student organizers, said the group has worked to keep protests within a time frame that minimizes disruptions to students taking final exams.

“We didn’t want to disrupt (final exams) because we worried it would be an impediment to future demonstrations,” said Ramirez, a junior. “But administration will gleefully ignore us until we are loud enough for them to hear us.”

Since October, approximately 34,500 Palestinians — the majority of which were women and children — have been killed in Gaza.

Ramirez and other students protesting Friday said they feel the conflict is a critical moment in their lives and felt compelled to protest out of frustration for how their tuition dollars play a part in it.

“We need numbers to make a statement, which has been difficult,” junior Neely Harris said. “We do not want the institution we pay lots of money to fund militarism and war crimes. We can’t sit idly by while that happens.”

The group highlighted Boeing — one of WSU’s primary corporate partners — as a company that WSU should cut ties with, given the company’s role as a major weapons manufacturer for Israel. Boeing recently had a building named in its honor on WSU’s Everett campus.

Protests at other colleges in the Pacific Northwest have made similar pleas regarding Boeing.

Portland State University leaders announced earlier this week they would pause accepting donations from Boeing in response to students. Portland police cleared protesters from the library building Thursday, arresting at least 30 people, including some students.

Student protesters at The Evergreen State College in Olympia removed an encampment on the school’s campus after administrators agreed to call for a cease-fire and promised to explore divestment from companies with ties to Israeli war efforts.

WSU Vancouver Chancellor Mel Netzhammer said Friday that the protests on his campus and elsewhere in the WSU system have not led to any action related to divestment, but that he and other leaders are exploring ways to make the university’s finances more public.

“We’re talking about being more transparent about where our investments are, which is something I think not a lot of people know,” Netzhammer said. “We get a lot of pressure from people asking for divestment from fossil fuels and to consider how WSU manages investments through its foundation. I think it’s worth looking at that.”

Netzhammer added he was proud of how peaceful this week’s protests on his campus have been. He said he was grateful they didn’t lead to violence or arrests as on other campuses around the country.

Speaking with administrators

Friday’s protesters in Vancouver were calm and orderly — but loud enough to be heard across campus. Ramirez said she didn’t feel university leadership was taking the protests seriously.

“We’ve been doing this peacefully and orderly, but what has it gotten us? (Evergreen State College) set up an encampment and occupied buildings, and look, their leaders agreed to divest,” she said. “But all they do is laugh at us, at our small numbers. You’re going to laugh at students protesting murder?”

Ramirez and a student from the Pullman campus spoke Thursday with WSU Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Domanic Vanthom about ways the student group could move forward in its goals.

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Vanthom said Friday he offered the students a list of people to contact to learn more about the university’s financial relationships and to explore the larger impacts of possible divestments.

“In terms of their goals, I asked they find ways to ensure they knew the impacts of something like that,” Vanthom said. “If you’re asking for a divestment from one company, help us find an alternative. It would be great to have students be a part of the problem-solving around that next step.”

Ramirez said she came away from the conversation frustrated and feeling like it put the onus on students to do much of the work themselves.

Vanthom acknowledged that such a process would be difficult and time-intensive but that he would be happy to speak further with them about it.

“I appreciate them using their voice to advance causes that they believe in,” Vanthom said. “And I will continue as an educator in supporting voice and I want to continue these conversations.”

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