Saying the university isn’t moving fast enough to solve racial friction on campus, at least 200 Black Lives Matter student marchers took over a scheduled race and equity conversation at the University of Washington on Tuesday night and demanded change.
What had been billed as a conversation about “micro aggressions,” or subtle forms of racism, quickly turned into a series of emotional speeches about racial tensions on campus, punctuated by raucous applause and chants of “Black lives matter.”
The marchers were expected — they had posted their intentions to take over the meeting on Facebook — and were enthusiastically cheered by students and faculty members who had gathered for the meeting in the UW’s Intellectual House, a Native American longhouse.
The UW needs to do more than just talk about diversity, said student Palca Shibale, who has emerged as one of the strongest and most outspoken leaders with the campus Black Lives Matter movement.
She said the university is moving too slowly and delicately, holding conversations about issues such as cultural competence that she described “as five hours of storytelling and coffee, and you walk out with your certificate.”
“Something needs to happen, and it needs to happen right away,” she said. “We’re here to have a revolution.” The room erupted in applause.
The students issued seven demands that include better recruiting of students of color, a 25 percent increase in the percentage of faculty of color by winter 2017 and a new community policing and review model to improve UW police behavior. They also demanded that the university recognize that it is located on unrecognized ancestral land of the Duwamish people.
They asked that two streets, Stevens Way and Whitman Court, be renamed because they honor men who were responsible for “indigenous genocide” — Gov. Isaac Stevens for presiding over treaties that removed Native Americans from their land, and Marcus Whitman for Christian missionary work that resulted in the genocide of indigenous people, students said.
A number of administrators attended the meeting, including Ed Taylor, vice provost and dean of undergraduate academic affairs and head of the race and equity initiative.
“In many ways, they’re right,” said Taylor, who is black. “I’m proud of our students. They spoke the truth.”
He said Tuesday’s meeting was a time for the administration to listen. “The question is, what do we do with this together?” he said.
President Ana Mari Cauce did not attend the meeting, and students were critical of her for not being there and not moving faster on the initiative, which she launched last year.
Indeed, the race and equity issue was born out of a Black Lives Matter march that Cauce used as a springboard to create the initiative more than a year ago. But Shibale said most of the demands students made after that march have not yet been addressed by the administration.
“We would not have a race and equity issue if it was not for student activism,” Shibale said.
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