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The vandalism of the HUB is not a protest – it is a crime

Witnessing the mounting deaths, injuries and hunger among civilians, many of them children, in Gaza has been extremely painful for us all, and especially so for those with family or cultural ties to the region. The pain is real, and I understand the desire to do something, almost anything, to try to bring an end to this very real humanitarian crisis. I deeply appreciate those in our community, from a range of religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds who are participating in constructive actions that might help to bring about a cease-fire and resolution to the crisis. In a democratic society we have the right to have our voices heard, and it is my hope that the education our students receive will help them to do so in an effective manner.

But there is no excuse whatsoever for the vandalism and property destruction that took place in the Husky Union Building – our HUB – last night by demonstrators occupying the building. The damage was wide-ranging and included violent, threatening slogans and epithets on the office doors of UW student organizations and staff. It also included damage to many of the student artworks proudly on display. Student journalists covering the situation shared on social media experiences being harassed and threatened by some of the people, not all of whom were students, occupying the building.

Such conduct not only damages buildings but is also criminal and counterproductive, doing nothing to attract people to the cause being represented. Rather than focusing our attention on the very real suffering in Gaza, it only creates conflict and divisiveness in our own community, which has already been so affected by increases in hateful incidents against Jewish, Muslim and Black community members.

Free expression and the right to protest are values that we support and protect as an institution committed to free speech. Threatening and harassing people, scrawling graffiti on walls, furniture and carpets, and damaging student art is unacceptable and wrong. UW police are investigating, and any individuals or groups found responsible will be held accountable.

Time, effort and money – which should be serving students – will instead be required to clean and repair the damage, and I am grateful for the staff from the HUB, Student Life, UW Facilities and other units who are working to reopen the HUB as quickly as possible.

Our University community is better than this. I remain confident that the overwhelming majority of us will continue the brave and necessary work of engaging in reasoned, civil debate in service of a more peaceful and equitable world.