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UWEC Students Protest for Palestine, Send Demands to Administration

protesters demanded divestment in certain companies, financial transparency with students, and an academic boycott

words & photos by Sawyer Hoff |

FROM THE RIVER TO THE SEA.
UW-Eau Claire students, faculty, and supporters gathered on campus May 3 to protest and call on the administration to divest funds from Israel.

Student protests on college campuses across the country calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and university divestments from Israel reportedly tripled in April alone, and on Friday, May 3, students on the UW-Eau Claire campus joined the movement.

At 11am on May 3 in front of Centennial Hall, roughly 50 students, staff, and community members gathered to voice their concerns about the conflict in Gaza, as well as list their demands to Chancellor James Schmidt and the UWEC administration. In an email sent by a group called UW-Eau Claire for Palestine – and repeated to the demonstrators who gathered May 3 – student protesters made a number of demands. They called for the university to divest from companies “complicit in war crimes and human rights violations in Palestine under Watch and Amnesty International,” which includes Amazon, McDonald’s, Microsoft – which is used across campus by employees and students – and Sodexo, the food service providers contracted at UWEC and many Universities of Wisconsin campuses. In the email, they also claimed students are dissatisfied with Sodexo’s service and that the company has committed labor violations.

“It is unconscionable for our university to continue profiting from companies that contribute to the suffering of innocent civilians.”

chhime yangdron

student protester

“It is unconscionable for our university to continue profiting from companies that contribute to the suffering of innocent civilians,” Student Chhime Yangdron said during the protest.

The email also called for an academic boycott, with UWEC divesting from and boycotting “militarized Israeli institutions,” including Haifa University, an option for students at the university to visit as a part of their Study Abroad program. “Supporting institutions that are complicit in the genocide of Palestinians should not be an option,” Yandrom said.

The last demand was for UWEC to provide financial investment transparency to its students and to ensure no tuition funds are going towards establishments complicit in the oppression of Palestinian people.

After listing their demands, the group then walked throughout the campus mall chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” among other things.

Organizers of the protests wanted to emphasize their gathering was a peaceful protest in order to protect student safety. They publicly condemned the actions of UW-Madison on May 1, when 34 protestors on campus were arrested and four people were charged with resisting arrest and battery to a police officer. “For the past two weeks, we have watched students and faculty across the country be brutalized, arrested, and disrespected, for exercising their First Amendment rights. We are deeply disturbed by the actions of these universities, including those in our own UW System,” said Isabel, one of the student speakers, to the protesters.

Later on Friday afternoon, The Spectator, UWEC’s student newspaper, reported that Chancellor James Schmidt released the following statement: “UW-Eau Claire has always embraced the First Amendment rights of students, faculty, staff and the public to gather peacefully and protest on our campus. We continue to focus on encouraging civil dialogue, and the group of students and supporters who gathered on campus today demonstrated they understand their rights and responsibilities and what it takes to engage in the peaceful exchange of ideas.”

Prior to the chancellor’s public statement, students Patrick Hill and Lily Jones say they hope this protest will at least open a dialogue. “We want (administration) to take substantive action,” Hill said. “One thing that is very important is elevating our link to the (University of Wisconsin System) Board of Regents because they have a lot of control over what the university can and can’t do.”