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News / Northwest

What to know about the agreement between UW and encampment organizers

By Caitlyn Freeman, , The Seattle Times (TNS),
Published: May 20, 2024, 9:08am

May 19—Organizers of the self-proclaimed liberated zone at the University of Washington will fully dismantle their encampment by Monday afternoon after striking an agreement with administrators.

News of the deal came Friday, along with a 3 p.m. Monday deadline to clear the tents, which at its peak grew up to 130, from the UW Quad.

Here’s what to know about the agreement, which organizers say falls short of their initial demands, and what it means for the university.

A quick recap

The first few tents popped up in the Quad on April 29 with the Progressive Student Union organizing the encampment.

A second group, the University of Washington United Front for Palestinian Liberation, joined May 1, referring to the encampment as the UW Liberated Zone or the Popular University for Gaza — similarly to other protests across the country.

The protesters were met twice with counterprotesters. On May 7, members of the encampment had a tense standoff with attendees of conservative activist Charlie Kirk’s event on campus.

Then, The Pursuit NW, a Christian church in the Seattle area, led a “United for Israel” march on May 12.

The university’s administration called for the encampment to be voluntarily dismantled before the event due to safety concerns, saying no negotiations or changes in university policy would be based on an encampment. The protesters refused.

After a string of reported acts of vandalism on campus, the two groups reached an agreement on Friday.

What protesters asked for

Protesters demanded the university cut ties with Boeing, citing the company’s involvement with Israel’s military, which protesters argued made UW complicit in the thousands of deaths in Gaza.

Demands included the university return a $10 million donation from Boeing, ban Boeing from recruiting on campus and end study abroad programs to Israel. They also called on UW “to end the oppression of the pro-Palestinian staff, students and faculty” by not charging students with conduct violations in connection with recent protests.

UW has been staunch in its desire to maintain relationships with Boeing. Since 1917, Boeing has donated more than $100 million to the school. However, the school said it has no investments in Boeing.

“Boeing’s support for the UW in time, talent and funding cannot be replaced by other endowment sources, nor would we choose to sever our relationship if they could be,” UW President Ana Mari Cauce previously wrote in an email to individuals and groups protesting violence against Palestinians.

What the agreement entails

As part of the decampment agreement, the university commits to funding at least 20 scholarships for Palestinian students displaced from Gaza.

The agreement also includes the development of a faculty committee that would analyze study abroad programs to see if they’d exclude participation from Arab or Palestinian students. UW administration said it will help faculty pursue academic connections with universities in Palestine.

The administration also agrees to be more transparent with the school’s investment portfolio and will meet with student representatives to explore future divestment decisions.

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“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,” Cauce said in a news release Friday.

Cauce also reiterated her call for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza, calling the humanitarian crisis there “heart breaking” and any targeting of civilians as “morally reprehensible.”

What the protesters are saying

Leaders of the encampment say they are “under no illusions this agreement is a win” as their original demands have not been met. However, they still believe progress was made despite “clear reluctance” from the university.

“The UW has demonstrated its commitment to neoliberal values, war profiteers, and facilitators of oppression over the calls of its students, faculty, and workers,” a news release sent Friday says. “UW would rather maintain the status quo than stand against genocide. Despite the university’s reluctance, we did secure progress in certain areas.”

Protesters said members of the encampment voted in favor of the agreement after an “overwhelming” number of members who are Palestinian, Muslim or Arab expressed support for it.

Although many members were disappointed with the offer, they said scholarships for Palestinian students, establishing ties with Palestinian universities and creating a task force to better collect information about Islamophobia on campus were the agreement’s biggest successes.

Agreements at other colleges

While dozens of universities have shut down similar encampments across the U.S. and arrested demonstrators, more than a dozen institutions like UW have struck agreements with on-campus protesters.

Earlier this month, the administration at The Evergreen State College in Olympia agreed to reassess some of its study abroad and investment policies after a weeklong encampment took place.

At the University of California, Berkeley, the chancellor agreed to support a cease-fire. At Rutgers University, protesters won a promise of scholarships for 10 Palestinian students displaced by the war. and Brown University pledged its board of trustees would vote on divestment, according to The New York Times.

The chancellor of the California State University System suspended Mike Lee, the president of its Sonoma campus, this past week for announcing an agreement with activists to pursue an academic boycott of Israeli institutions as well as “divestment strategies,” according to The Associated Press.

The chancellor called the agreement “insubordination.”

No university has yet agreed outright to divestment, which was a key demand of student protests across the country.