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News / Northwest

University of Washington encampment to come down after a deal with administrators

By Catalina Gaitán, The Seattle Times
Published: May 17, 2024, 5:45pm

SEATTLE — An encampment at the University of Washington is coming down after an agreement between the protesters and the university administration.

In a news release Friday morning, organizers of the encampment, called the UW Liberated Zone or Popular University for Gaza, which demanded the university to cut ties with Israel and Boeing, confirmed it had struck a deal.

Protesters agreed to clear the encampment by 3 p.m. Monday and not reestablish it, according to the news release.

“I’m pleased to reach this resolution so that our campus can begin to heal — including by coming together for Commencement next month — and so that once again all UW community members, regardless of religion, race or national origin, can live, learn and work without fear,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement Friday afternoon.

The agreement caps 18 days of encampments, which had ballooned to more than 100 tents, in the Quad on the university campus. Tensions had been rising, with several counterprotests, the university officials ruling out cutting ties to Boeing and vandalism of several buildings on campus with pro-Palestinian messages and what an administrator referred to as “antisemitic slogans.”

Protesters had demanded the university return a $10 million donation from Boeing and ban it from recruiting on campus, citing the company’s involvement in the Israeli armed services. Protesters also demanded ending study abroad programs to Israel.

Organizers of the encampment acknowledged the agreement fell short of what they were asking for.

“We are under no illusions that this agreement is a win,” the organizers said in their news release. “Many of our demands remain unfulfilled as the UW has shown clear reluctance to make even the smallest progress towards reducing our complicity in the ongoing genocide in Palestine.”

Under the agreement, the organizers said, administrators agree to fund at least 20 scholarships for Palestinian students displaced from Gaza. Administrators will also establish a faculty committee that would recommend changes to any study abroad programs that exclude participation based on a student’s Palestinian or Arab identity.

The organizers also said the university will increase transparency around the school’s investments, including in companies such as Boeing, major weapons manufacturers or companies in Israel. The university has said it has no direct investments in those companies.

Under the agreement, the university will also help faculty pursue academic connection with Palestinian universities. The university officials will also meet with student representatives to consider a request to explore divestment. The agreement did not specify which companies could be targeted for divestment.

UW’s agreement comes after some universities, including The Evergreen State College in Olympia, struck a similar deal to end encampments on their campuses. Evergreen in early May agreed to explore divestment from companies that profit from “the occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Cauce in her statement said she wanted to avoid calling on police to intervene, as was the case at UCLA and Columbia University.

The university will not discipline students for “exercising their First Amendment rights,” which will include camping, the agreement stated. But it also noted vandalism and property damage “will continue to be investigated and acted on accordingly.”

“We will be closely observing the withdrawal of the encampment, recognizing that there may be individuals, particularly from outside the UW community, who refuse to depart,” Cauce said in her statement. “We will address any such refusals appropriately to ensure the full return to a safe environment for our students and community.”

Zho Ragen, a spokesperson for the encampment, said seven representatives met with university officials, including Cauce, at 8 a.m. Friday to finalize the agreement.

Friday’s agreement generated mixed reactions from members of the encampment, said Ragen, who recently earned a doctorate in climate science from the university.

“Even if it’s not all we wanted to do, we drew a line and said we’re going to call out our institution’s complicity,” Ragen said. “We’re always going to feel like we should have done more for Palestine.”

While the encampment is slated to be dismantled, Ragen said protesters are planning to use other tactics in the future to pressure UW officials to meet their original demands, such as having the university cut financial and academic ties with Boeing and Israel.

She declined to specify what those tactics would be but pointed to student-led movements throughout U.S. history, such as those against the Vietnam War and apartheid in South Africa.

“We have a lot of history to draw from, and we have a long future to look forward to in terms of struggling for liberation,” Ragen said.

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