At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, sirens screamed from a megaphone — the call had come.
Hundreds of students, faculty, administration and community members walked out of their classrooms, from libraries and from residence halls to meet at in front of Mary Gates Hall on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus.
The walkout was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and to address diversity issues on the University of Washington campuses and within the greater community.
“It’s not the mayor of Seattle’s responsibility to take care of black people, it’s black people’s responsibility to take care of each other…and to work with people from all communities. We need to be there for each other,” said Jaebadiah Gardner, a UW alum who runs a real estate company in Seattle.
The walkout was organized by Outside Agitators 206 and a variety of campus organizations at all three University of Washington campuses in Seattle, Bothell and Tacoma.
Walkout organizer Nikkita Oliver emphasized the significance of doing a walkout on this scale at a university.
“What better place to call to attention these issues, where we can have these types of dialogues on our classrooms?” she asked, as supporters cheered.
The group marched from Mary Gates Hall to the Husky Union Building to deliver a set of demands from the ASUW Joint Commissions Committee.
“We, through our own work and personal views, are seeking to combat anti-blackness in our communities and the school-to-prison pipeline. We encourage UW and the greater Seattle community to join us in this effort,” their statement read, in part.
In support of diversity
The group highlighted the lack of black students and faculty at the UW.
According to data released in January by the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, out of the 29,458 undergraduates enrolled at the university, 11,947 are students of color — and 1,026 are black. That’s 3 percent. Of the 4,115 faculty across all three campuses, 70 are black— 1.7 percent. Additionally, out of the 2,006 professional students, 42 are black — 2 percent.
Those percentages lag behind the percentage of black residents of King County (6.6 percent in 2013) and in the state overall (four percent) according estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The list of demands was endorsed by the Black Student Union, African Student Association, and Divest UW.
Their top demand was the have equitable access to higher education, not just equal opportunity access to education. The group called for the repeal of Initiative 200, which prohibited the University of Washington and other government entities to use preferential treatment according to race for school admissions or hiring.
“I-200 repealed Affirmative Action and was meant to provide equal opportunity access for potential students, but this negatively affected the acceptance of students of color into the University of Washington,” the undergraduate demands read.
They also called for the presidents of the university and ASUW to write public statements in favor of repealing I-200.
“Whether you are a racial minority, LGBTQ, abled or disabled, trans, gay, cis – whatever you are, we are here to support you,” Palca Shibale, the secretary of the African Student Association, said at the rally.
Cries of “hands up, don’t shoot,” echoed through the street as marchers made their way from the Evans School to the William H. Gates Hall.
UWPD officers helped block traffic along the protest route on campus and through the University District. Marchers held four minutes of silence on the Ave.
Jeff Welke joined the protest on his bike.
“I am in full support,” Welke said. “It’s far beyond time that this issue should be brought into the public.”
Students and faculty support
The walkout received support from different areas of the university, from students to administration.
Geography professor Lucy Jaroscz cancelled her lecture “out of respect for this important movement and the critical issues it addressed,” she wrote in an email to students last week.
Ralina Joseph, an associate professor in the Communication, American Ethnic Studies and Gender, Women’s and Sexuality Studies departments, took students from her Black Cultural Studies class to the walkout in support.
“Students, particularly minoritized students, need to be supported in their efforts to have voice and resist oppressive structures. Being a part of the walkout was one of the all ways I could support their efforts,” Joseph said in a text message. “Plus it’s my struggle too!”
Vice President and Vice Provost of Minority Affairs & Diversity Sheila Edwards Lange also reached out to her staff, expressing her support for other administrators and OMDA staff to walkout as well. Edwards Lange was present throughout the day at the march.
“I think it’s great that students are turning to action after the protest and thinking about what kinds of things they can do to affect change,” she said. “If we can’t have open and free dialogue [about these issues] at a university, then where else can we have it? This is the place where we should have the free exchange of ideas and have students have a voice.”
Edwards Lange said university officials would not release a statement on the walkout.
Interim UW president Ana Mari Cauce said that she is prepared to work with students on the given demands.
“Overall I have been so impressed by the students that have been involved in the movement and I think that they’re making points that this is a good time to make,” Cauce told The Seattle Globalist.
Recent events “make it very clear that things are not okay, and we have a long way to go. Education and access to higher education is part of where we need to go and [bring] the kind of visibility… to the kinds of issues that are still out there, so I am very supportive.”
Speakers also emphasized the importance of recognizing the struggles not just of the black community, but of oppressed and minorities groups everywhere, and the need for those communities to come together in support of each other.
While the walkout was staged to make a statement on campus on Wednesday, organizers and participants alike want to ensure that the conversation continues beyond the day’s events.
“What does ‘black lives matter’ mean at UW?” senior Na’Quel Walker asked. “What are you doing in your daily life to make that a reality? When we say black lives matter, we’re not saying that other lives don’t. But until black lives truly matter, we can’t say that all lives matter.”
*This story has been corrected from an earlier version. Ralina Joseph is an associate professor of Communication.