Speeches & Commentary

This weekend’s demonstration

Dear Washington University community,

Saturday was a dark, sad day for WashU. A large group of individuals came to campus intending to disrupt, do harm, and interfere with educational activities and campus life.  When the group began to set up an encampment, which is in clear violation of our explicitly stated policies, we asked them to leave, multiple times.  They did not leave voluntarily, so we made the decision to peaceably remove them.  Unfortunately, they physically resisted.  In the process of making a total of 100 arrests, three police officers received significant injuries.  Among those arrested were 23 WashU students and at least four employees.  To our knowledge, the rest of the individuals were not our students or employees.  Everyone arrested is facing criminal charges for trespassing and, for some, potentially resisting arrest and assault.  For those who are students, we also have initiated the university student conduct process.  We are taking what happened very seriously.

At WashU, we fully support free expression.  We encourage our students to use their voices to speak up about issues they’re passionate about.  Our campus is a place for our community to advocate and debate, but to be clear, our expectation is that members of our community can protest and express their strongly held views with signs, chants, and speeches, so long as they don’t resort to actions that cause harm.  On numerous occasions this semester, this academic year, and throughout our history, we’ve supported our students as they’ve held peaceful on-campus demonstrations on a variety of topics.  These have taken place without interruption, as long as they have followed our policies, which are in place to promote safety and ensure that the university is able to fully function in support of our mission. 

We’ve all watched as protests have spiraled out of control on other campuses across the country in recent months. We are not letting this happen here. 

What happened Saturday was not a peaceful protest by our students.  This was something else.  The majority of this group were not WashU students, faculty, or staff.  Some of the protesters were behaving aggressively, swinging flagpoles and sticks.  Some were attempting to break into locked buildings or to deface property.  There were chants that many in our community find threatening and antisemitic.  When the group initially set up in front of Olin Library, our police dispatch received numerous calls from students who were inside the library, terrified that they were in harm’s way.  When the group moved to Tisch Park, they began to set up another encampment and took to social media to invite others to join them.  They refused to take down their tents as instructed multiple times by police.  None of this is acceptable.  

To be crystal clear, we will not permit students and faculty, and we certainly will not permit outside interests, to take over Washington University property to establish encampments to promote any political or social agenda.

I’ve heard from many members of our community since Saturday, with some supporting and some criticizing our response.  A large number have expressed appreciation that we took swift action to disband the group to protect the safety of bystanders and prevent an unauthorized encampment from being set up.  Even though this was the right thing to do, it was nonetheless a painful decision to make.  We never want to have this type of interaction with members of our community or our neighbors.  However, we gave everyone who was there ample opportunity to leave.  They chose to stay and be arrested.  Some of those being arrested chose to resist and engage physically with the officers, resulting in injuries to three of the officers.  We cannot allow this type of behavior on our campus.

To those who plan to continue to come to campus with the intention of disrupting our education and research mission and violating our policies, please know we will respond proportionately each and every time.  You will not do this here.  


Andrew D. Martin