Some University of Washington students walked out of class and briefly took over a regents meeting to protest what they see as systemic institutional racism at the school.
Hundreds of students walked out of classes at the University of Washington’s Seattle campus midday Thursday and then briefly took over the UW’s regents meeting, protesting what they see as systemic institutional racism at the UW.
Their list of demands includes asking the UW to divest its holdings in major national hedge funds and banks that hold investments in the private prison industry. Students say these companies are benefiting from mass incarceration policies and harsh prison sentences that have devastated minority communities.
UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the university has no direct investments in private prison companies. He said he does not know if the university’s hedge funds include prison investments, but that the amount of money invested in hedge funds is a small part of the university’s portfolio.
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UW student regent Vanessa Kritzer is expected to meet with the students and the university’s financial officers on Monday to look at their concerns.
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In December, the University of California system sold about $30 million of investments in companies that operate private prisons, at the urging of student activists. Columbia University has also divested from private prison companies. UW President Ana Mari Cauce said the UW is not invested in any of the companies at the center of those divestment actions.
The protesting students, faculty and staff — who call themselves the South Campus Organizers — have also joined with Black Lives Matter activists, plus another group, Decolonize UW, to publicize incidents of racism on campus.
They started the protest at 11 a.m., when about 300 students gathered next to Mary Gates Hall. They then marched through Allen and Suzzallo libraries, made speeches on Suzzallo’s steps on Red Square, and walked through the Quad. Around 1:20 p.m., they entered the UW Board of Regents meeting on the fourth floor of Allen Library and briefly took over the meeting. Later in the day, they blocked traffic periodically on streets near campus.
In an open letter to UW leaders, they say the university has failed its community by holding forums and meetings without taking action to create a more equitable campus.
Last month, hundreds of students took control of a scheduled race and equity conversation at the university, saying the UW isn’t moving fast enough to solve racial friction on campus. Students distributed a list of seven demands, which included divesting from prisons by the end of spring 2017, and removing a section of the student admissions application that asks students about prior convictions.
The UW’s admission application only asks students if they’ve been convicted of a violent felony crime against another person, Arkans said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Education urged the nation’s colleges and universities to reconsider college-application questions that ask students to divulge if they have been arrested.
Meanwhile, at Seattle University, a group of students also is demanding change in that school’s curriculum and culture.on that campus. About 30 to 40 students spent the night in the front office of Matteo Ricci College, the school’s humanities college, and more joined in for a rally at noon on campus. They have said they will not leave until their demands are met.