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St. Louis-area college student groups want universities to sever ties with Boeing

Demonstrators protest on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, outside of a Boeing facility in St. Charles, Mo. The activists said they wanted to disrupt the manufacturing of weapons to be used in the Israel-Hamas War.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Demonstrators protest in November outside a Boeing weapons manufacturing plant in St. Charles. A coalition of pro-Palestine student groups at St. Louis-area colleges is calling for university leaders to sever ties with Boeing because of the weapons manufacturer’s connection with Israel.

A coalition of pro-Palestine student groups at St. Louis-area universities are calling for their leaders to sever ties with Boeing because of the weapons manufacturer’s connections with Israel.

In a letter addressed to University of Missouri–St. Louis, St. Louis University and Washington University leaders, seven groups including the UMSL Middle Eastern Students Association, SLU Muslim Students Association and Resist Wash U called for university leaders to cease recruitment events and hiring fairs featuring the organization and for universities to divest from the company.

“There should be absolutely no connection with Boeing,” Wash U junior and Coalition of WUSTL Students For Palestine member Maclean Kelley said. “Boeing is the world's third-largest weapons manufacturer and is responsible in large part for enabling not just the genocide of Palestinians that's currently being escalated, but also lots instances of mass violence throughout history.”

The SLU Middle Eastern Students Association, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Muslim Students Association and Occupy SLU also signed onto the letter addressed to university leaders.

Kelley said the groups started reaching out to each other over the past several weeks to build a coalition of support, taking influence from student groups that organized during the Ferguson uprising in 2014. Student groups will also organize rallies and speaker engagements over the week as part of a week of action across the universities.

Kelley said student groups at Wash U have met with some administrators but were told by university leaders that they didn’t have the power to divest from Boeing. Kelley said they’re trying to schedule another meeting with other administrators.

Representatives for Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In 2020, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing with a $2.2 billion five-year contract to manufacture small-diameter bombs at its St. Charles facility. The contract includes sales to foreign nations, including Israel. The manufacturer sped up its delivery of bombs to Israel in October.

Pro-Palestine protesters have criticized Boeing’s weapon sales, leading a protest outside its St. Charles facility in October.

Representatives for Wash U did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesperson for UMSL said in a statement that university leaders are saddened by the violence in the Middle East and that it’s “committed to protecting the rights of each member of the campus community to express their views and engage in respectful dialogue and debate.”

A SLU spokesperson said in a statement that the university recognizes and respects students’ rights to voice their concerns, including concerns about university and corporate relations.

The letter is the latest action among university students protesting actions in the Israel-Hamas conflict. In October, Wash U students participated in a nationwide walkout while calling for university leaders to condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza.

Wash U students also criticized Wash U Chancellor Andrew D. Martin’s statement, claiming it endorsed Israel’s attacks against Palestinians after Hamas militants killed 1,400 Israeli citizens and took 240 hostages on Oct. 7.

Since the attack, the Israeli military has led bombings that have killed more than 15,000 people in Gaza. Israeli and Hamas forces agreed to a cease-fire at the end of November that included the exchange of detainees for hostages, but Israel leaders resumed airstrikes Friday after claiming Hamas militants violated the truce.

“I am an Afghan refugee, I've come to the United States as a refugee and as a result of these types of wars from Afghanistan,” said Sahar Hussaini, a sophomore and advocacy chair of the SLU Muslim Student Association. “I understand how stressful it can be for Palestinians and people that are going through the same thing and somehow close to what I've been through.”

The ongoing war has led to heightened tensions across college campuses. In October, a former Wash U professor was criticized for a post on X calling Israel’s attacks against Palestinians “a much needed cleansing.” Last month, another Wash U professor was criticized after supporting an anti-Israeli protester who released smoked devises outside an American Israel Public Affairs Committee member’s home in Los Angeles.

A Cornell University student was charged with making antisemitic threats against Jewish students, and three Palestinian college students were shot in Burlington, Vermont last month. In the letter, the student groups said the rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents across universities is leading to unsafe environments for productive conversations.

“It's a stressful and pressing time, especially as a Muslim, especially for our hijabi sisters,” Hussaini said. “Students and Muslims are kind of cautious in trying to be safe and be supportive.”

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.