SU Senate votes for resolution calling for University to divest from Boeing

, , and | Staff Writers, Junior News Editor, Managing News Editor 

Attendees listen to mid-year transfer Jonah Porth speak during open forum (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

In a meeting attended by nearly 200 total students, Student Union (SU) Senate passed a resolution 15 to 5 with one abstention, via an unprecedented anonymous vote, calling on Washington University to divest from and cut professional ties with Boeing, March 19. 

During the community input section of the meeting, 44 students and two professors spoke, with 32 were in favor of the resolution, while 14 were opposed to it, with many saying they thought it was antisemitic.  

The resolution calls for the University to remove all affiliations, financial or otherwise, with Boeing and to reallocate those resources to first-generation and low-income students through a more transparent endowment. 

The resolution was sponsored by Senators and sophomores Natalia Leon-Diaz and Sonal Churiwal, first-years Emaan Sayied and Saara Engineer, as well as Vice President of Engagement, junior Andrew de las Alas. 

Diaz, Churiwal, and de las Alas read the resolution at the beginning of the meeting and said that the University was being hypocritical by stating that they follow ethical funding practices but continuing to provide money to Boeing.

Due to the 70-person capacity of the room, not all students who wanted to attend were able to at the same time. Members of the Washington University Police Department (WUPD) and Rob Wild, Dean of Students, helped Senate leadership rotate students from the room to the hallway outside periodically to ensure those waiting were able to speak.

Students gather in the hallway while waiting to be let into the meeting (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Towards the beginning of the open forum, students in the hallway began to chant “Free, free Palestine” and “Divest from Boeing.” Students also held signs that read “Boeing Kills” and “Free Palestine” to the glass next to the doors of the room. One of the speeches had to be paused due to the noise in the hallway, and Wild went outside to ask the students to quiet down.

“This is a violation of the University Demonstrations and Disruption policy to disrupt the scheduled meeting, so that’s why I went out there,” Wild said after he re-entered the room. In a follow-up interview, Wild told Student Life that the students complied after being warned and that there would be no disciplinary action. 

After the resolution was presented, attendees were allowed to join a speaker’s list and given two minutes to share their thoughts. Many student speakers who opposed the resolution talked about their experiences as Jewish students at the University and argued that the resolution was antisemitic. 

Sophomore Ilan Barnea, who identified himself as a proud Jew, Israeli, and Zionist, said that the resolution was a stepping stone to cause harm against Jewish people. 

“This resolution is an excuse for the beginning of an assault on the Jewish people, just as was done in the 1930s,” Barnea said. “You’re not freeing Palestine. You’re looking for the erasure of the one place in the world that keeps my family safe.”

Sophomore Ilan Barnea speaks about his Jewish identity in opposition to the Senate resolution. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Sophomore Charlie Weingarten, a representative of the Hillel Leadership Council, said that the resolution contained tropes similar to the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement which she views as antisemitic. 

She referenced a Google Docs comment made by one of the sponsors of the bill on a draft of the resolution online which read the writers ought to “reframe this as student government doing this work instead of this explicitly being BDS. it is and still will be, but I think the above WHEREAS can communicate it while using less knee jerk language (for Zionists). i just don’t rly wanna get this hung up on silly things like the efficacy and reputation of BDS if we can center student agency instead.” 

Student Life obtained a photo of the comment made by de las Alas, which was made on a part of the resolution that was ultimately deleted. 

Weingarten said that she was upset when she read the comment. 

“It is insulting to think that we are so naive as to fall for this trickery that changing the phrasing of this resolution would be enough to distract us from its true intent,” she said. “Resolution sponsors, you have fooled no one. We urge you to throw this resolution away.” 

Some students who advocated in favor of the resolution were from the newly-formed group Jewish Students for Palestine (JSP). They highlighted their anti-Zionist stance as Jewish students.

Senior Lila Steinbech said that the group does not see Jewish safety as something that comes from ties with a company that “fortifies the military-industrial complex.” 

“We look at this bill and do not see a target on our backs as Jews,” Steinbach said. “We want to remind people that Boeing is a corrupt organization. Making an assertion as simple as this shouldn’t render us unable to participate in Jewish life at WashU.”

Junior Emmett Campbell, a proponent of the resolution and a member of JSP, said that the organization Genocide Watch outlines the 10 stages of genocide, and he said that Israel has “without a doubt” accomplished the first nine. 

“The only stage left is the 10th: denial about genocide,” Campbell said. “This is happening today in this very room by my peers, by people who claim to represent all Jews by people who say that anti-Zionism is equivalent to antisemitism.”

Other students who spoke in support of the resolution talked about the impact of Boeing’s weapons on civilians living in the Gaza Strip. 

Junior Maclean Kelley said that the Boeing factory in St. Charles, Mo, produces weapons that are being sent abroad. 

“You should all know that there is a bomb factory 20 minutes away that makes bombs that are currently being used to kill people in Palestine,” Kelley said. “This should bother you deeply.” 

Students hold signs in support of the resolution to divest from Boeing while sophomore Sophie Barnett speaks (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Postdoctoral fellow in the American Culture Studies Department, Eman Ghanayem, who spoke alongside Professor Angela Miller, said that she attended the meeting as part of a newly-formed Faculty for Justice in Palestine group. 

“We are here to say that, as academics, we find the University’s ties to militarism and companies that fund wars and weapons unacceptable,” Ghanayem said. “This is an educational institution, whose main goal is to show students the path to truth and justice and not to participate in violence.” 

Junior Youssef Saad said it is already difficult for Muslims to safely speak on campus, specifically referencing an event where he and others held up banners with the names of children killed in Gaza and were “ridiculed, laughed at, and taken pictures of.” 

“I would just like to ask you guys where your priorities are because as I see the Boeing office in the Knight Center, all I can think about are the videos that I see every night of innocent Palestinians being killed, mothers [carrying] their [dying] children to and from hospitals, which are also bombed,” Saad said. 

Senior Maya Phelps said it is important to highlight the connections between Black Americans and Palestinians. 

“Palestinians supported people in Ferguson who were protesting police brutality against Black people in the U.S. It is our duty as well to support Palestinians who are also experiencing brutality, violence, and outrageous acts of dehumanization,” Phelps said.

Students hold signs against Boeing and in support of the resolution to divest. (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

First-year Saanvi Bathla was the final person to speak in the open forum section of the meeting. 

“We are sitting here weighing the pros and cons of funding genocide. We do not need Boeing’s blood money. People are dying,” Bathla said. “If you vote no on this resolution, shame on you. If you abstain from voting on this resolution, shame on you. The people in Gaza need us to speak.”

After the nearly 50 community speakers, the SU Senate moved into discussion. Senator and first-year Chantal Ogbeifun questioned whether the resolution was appropriate, citing a version of the SU Constitution which says SU may only take stances on political issues that directly impact WashU students. 

“This resolution is going to delegitimize Student Union as an organization because we’re asking WashU to do something that it doesn’t have the authority to do,” Ogbeifun said. “It sets the precedent that we can continue to pass resolutions that are divisive for the student body rather than actually calling for change we can create on campus.”

Senator Matthew Broome further questioned whether the resolution would be effective given Chancellor Andrew Martin’s view of divestment in a recent Q and A with Student Life. 

“It is a waste of time when the chancellor of the University says that this is not going to happen,” Broome said.

Senator Ashton Lee said that students still have an important voice on campus despite Martin’s denial. 

“You should understand that [with] Chancellor Martin’s statement saying ‘no,’ he says that with immense privilege,” Lee said. “If you think that Chancellor Martin or anyone who said no to anybody means your voice is powerless, then that’s a terrible state for our democracy, and it’s a terrible state for student voices on this campus.”

Sophomore Natalia Leon-Diaz, one of the co-sponsors of the resolution, said that the resolution will have an effect, regardless of its practical implementation.

“This is an important and powerful statement,” Leon-Diaz said, “Just look at the amount of people outside. Do you really think this resolution won’t achieve anything? The evidence is right there.”

Senator Lily Smith spoke about potential backlash to the bill, describing what she saw as consequences that could arise from its passing. 

“We have almost 2000 Jews here, as one of the largest populations among U.S. schools,” Smith said, “I can tell you that whether I want it to or not, this is what’s going to happen — Student Union is going to be hated by the majority of Jews on this campus.”

Senator Sahil Soni said that he believes SU needs to do more to prevent antisemitism while also supporting the resolution. 

“I think we’re failing to acknowledge the seriousness of antisemitism that is on this campus…We cannot just throw away [Jewish students’] concerns,” Soni said. “I think we can fairly criticize the Israeli government for its actions of genocide in Gaza without marginalizing the Jewish community on campus.”

Resolution co-sponsor first-year Emaan Sayied described the resolution as one of the few chances to seriously help those suffering in the war.

“Divestment is one of the very few stances we can take to actually do something,” Sayied said, “I can’t even send aid over to Gaza without it sitting in a truck for weeks while children starve. But I can ask my institution, one with over $12 billion in an endowment, to stop contributing to genocide.”

Lee yielded his speaking time to senior Emma Platt, citing the fact that sophomore Mika Kipnis stated that she and Smith were the only two Jewish senators on the 21-person body. Platt formerly served on SU as senator and as the Vice President of Engagement.

“My problem is not that Student Union is trying to take a pro-Palestine stance. You should,” Platt said. “But you cannot, in my opinion, and should not do that until you have a solid plan of how you’re going to support Jewish students who are telling you, urging you, begging you that our safety is not being considered.”

Students rotated in and out of the meeting room throughout the night to hear other community members and senators discuss the resolution (Bri Nitsberg | Student Life)

Before conducting a vote, senators discussed whether to vote publicly or through an anonymous vote, a procedure they discussed in a meeting before Spring Break. 

Associate Director for Student Involvement, Sarah Edmondson, who advises SU, said that she strongly encouraged senators not to break from precedent by using an anonymous vote. 

Lee stated that student safety should be the number one priority when making their decision. 

“I’m all for transparency, but when we’ve had senators who’ve been threatened for past resolutions, regardless of which side they’re on, that’s not acceptable,” Lee said. 

The motion to vote anonymously on the resolution was approved 17-4, with Senators Ogbeifun, Soni, first-year Faheem Rahman, and sophomore Braeden Rose voting against it. 

Lee also urged there to be a respectful dialogue among students after the event regardless of the result of the resolution. 

“Think about your humanity as a person when you leave this room and how you respect people leaving this room…regardless of how you support what’s been said today or you disagree with what’s been said today because how we react to this resolution as a university will truly be the testament of our students,” Lee said. 

After senators submitted their anonymous ballots, the final vote on the resolution calling for the University to divest from Boeing was 15 yes, 5 no, and one abstention, meaning the resolution passed.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated that the section of the Student Union Constitution that references political stances was changed on the day of the meeting. The article was updated on March 22 to reflect that the political section of the Constitution was not recently amended. 

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