Encampment resolution and reflections

Published On

Fri, 05/31/2024 - 10:24 am

Dear WWU community, 

 As I shared earlier this week, we have reached a resolution with students from the WWU Divest Apartheid Coalition. I believe the agreement reflects the good faith discussions we’ve had with our students over the past several weeks and is consistent with Western’s values and core academic mission. The resolution includes a commitment to transparency regarding university investments, a new process for consideration of requests for divestment from investments held by the University and the Foundation for WWU & Alumni, and procedures to ensure that procurement decisions are consistent with institutional values and principles. The agreement also includes provisions for ensuring University-endorsed study abroad programs are inclusive to all students regardless of their background, as well as a renewed commitment from the University to expand the work initiated by the Office of Equity, including engaging the campus community in dialogue around use of language and how various interpretations of terms can impact the university community.

As part of the agreement, encampment leaders agreed to voluntarily remove the encampment, a process which is now complete. The entire agreement can be accessed here.   

I want to reiterate that this continues to be an incredibly difficult time for many in our campus community. As I’ve said before, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is tragic and demands urgent attention, with the most recent estimate from the United Nations projecting the current death toll of Palestinian civilians to be over 35,000. We join the calls from around the world for an immediate ceasefire and a cessation to the killing of civilians, the safe return of hostages, and peace in the region. 

I want to acknowledge that some of my past messages to the community on this issue have caused emotional harm to Palestinian, Arab and Arab American students. In particular, my recent conversations with students from WWU’s Arab Student Association have helped me realize that I misunderstood the complexity of the term Intifada and misrepresented our ASA students’ intended use of the term. While hurting our Arab and Arab American students was never my intent, I offer my heartfelt apologies. 

As an institutional leader for all members of the WWU community, I would be remiss if I did not mention that I have also heard from many other members of the university, including some from the Jewish community, who have felt unsupported and unsafe during this time. The safety and well-being of all our students, faculty and staff is my first responsibility. It has been extraordinarily difficult to navigate the pressures we have faced over the past several weeks and months, and while tensions have run high at times, our focus has always been and will always be to deliver on the educational mission of the university, while doing everything we can to maintain a safe environment and staying true to the principles of free speech and academic freedom.   

On that last note, Western is committed to ensuring that all members of the campus community can freely express their views, including our students’ rights to engage in peaceful demonstration. As a university community we condemn all forms of hate and bias and strive to ensure that our community members can share their perspectives on any topic of scholarly investigation in a safe and inclusive environment and without fear of retribution when discussing topics such as Palestine. It is also important to note that academic freedom comes with immense responsibility to ensure that we allow all perspectives to be voiced, that we come to conversations from a position of truth and understanding, and that we take ownership for creating an emotionally safe environment for all. 

I have been heartened to hear from many in our community of the important role that Western must own — now more than ever — in this difficult environment, to create continued opportunities for learning, growth and dialogue representing a multitude of perspectives on complex political, economic, and humanitarian issues. I know that as a community we can continue to engage in these conversations with kindness, respect, and integrity, and to model the environment that we expect others to follow.    

Thank you all for being part of the Western community and for the contributions you all make to our incredible university.   

Kind regards, 

Sabah