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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Pro-Palestine groups protest arms manufacturers at UW-Madison engineering career fair


University of Wisconsin-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and other pro-Palestine student groups protested the presence of weapons manufacturing companies at an engineering career fair on Feb. 13. 

Three companies at the fair — BAE Systems, Caterpillar and General Dynamics — all have alleged ties to the Israeli military.

“The university shouldn’t be allowing a company that actively participates in war crimes or actively helps an apartheid state to recruit students,” said a protester who asked to remain anonymous. “It is saying that they do not actually value the lives of Palestinian students.”

BAE Systems has been accused of providing Israel with white phosphorus, a dangerous chemical restricted under international law, according to The Defense Post. Caterpillar and General Dynamics have been accused of supplying weapons and vehicles to the Israeli military.

UW-Madison said it cannot “prohibit participation of employers that meet the criteria for [the] career fair” because it is a public institution.

An employer must be “actively hiring for engineering majors that the university offers” in order to participate in the career fair, UW-Madison Media Relations and Strategic Communications Director Kelly Tyrell said in an email to the Cardinal. According to the university’s recruiting policy, a company can only have their privilege to recruit revoked if they withhold information about the job, mishandle student data or act unprofessional. 

Career Services posted attendance guidelines before the protest, according to an image from UW-Madison Anticolonial Scientists.

Courtesy UW-Madison Anticolonial Scientists

UWPD arrests one protester, shoves another

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Two UW Police Department officers were asked to provide security at the fair because “several protesters attempted to disrupt the event and enter the building with items that are not permitted in university buildings,” according to UWPD spokesman Marc Lovicott. He also said university police “made multiple requests for the group to leave.”

Video footage by Latine student organization Mecha de UW-Madison shows an officer shoving a protester to the ground during the protest. Footage provided by SJP also showed the officer handcuffing a separate protester and pushing them against a wall.

Lovicott said the protester in the Mecha de UW-Madison video was “physically blocked by a UWPD officer, causing them to be brought to the ground.” UWPD is currently investigating the altercation, according to Lovicott.

The detained protester was later issued a citation and released. 

Campus reactions

Some students have criticized UWPD since the protest. Graffiti in the sixth-floor women’s bathroom of the Mosse Humanities building criticized the incident, calling the actions of the UWPD an attack on free speech.

“I’ve been feeling horrified ever since,” one anonymous eyewitness to the protest, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “If [UWPD] can assault people just for having a megaphone, it makes me feel really unsafe at this school.” 

Several student organizations released statements denouncing UWPD’s actions.

UW-Madison Anticolonial Scientists, an organization that promotes diversity and anticolonialism in scientific study, said in a statement the university’s response was anti-free speech and an endorsement of genocide against Gazans.

SJP said in a statement that the university must “take action and accountability regarding the lack of protection towards protesters.”

Tyrell said the university “strongly values free speech and provides support for protest activities that take place on campus.” UW-Madison follows protest response procedures in the events of demonstrations that “disrupt the academic mission” of the university or “threaten campus or personal safety.” 

Student-led pro-Palestinian protests have occurred across the nation since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel.

At Columbia University, student protesters were sprayed with an Israeli-developed “skunk” chemical, according to Al Jazeera. And at the University of Michigan, campus police arrested forty protesters in November for refusing to leave the office of university President Santa Ono.

UW-Madison Anticolonial Scientists said students should continue advocating for the exclusion of weapons manufacturing companies at campus career fairs.

“Do your part to become informed, talk to everyone you know, organize to get weapons manufacturers banned from future career fairs and show the university that the current protest rules are unreasonable,” UW-Madison Anticolonial Scientists told the Cardinal.

Anticolonial Scientists held another protest at Engineering Hall on Feb. 19.

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