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Students focus protests on Boeing- highlighting weapons production


Students protesting the war in Gaza demand Portland State University cut ties to Boeing. The University has responded by agreeing to a pause in accepting contributions from Boeing, a major defence contractor that also produces nuclear weapons.

University campuses across the US, and some internationally, including in France, the UK and Germany, are seeing a rise in student activism to protest their school’s connections with the war in Gaza, including investments and other links with the weapons industry. These protests are calling for university endowments to divest from weapons manufacturers, and for those weapons companies to get off of campuses.

One major company getting a lot of attention is Boeing. Boeing, though mostly known for its commercial aircraft, actually generates more than 60% of its annual revenue through defence contracts. Boeing is also contracted through 2039 to produce Minuteman III ICBMs for the US nuclear arsenal.

Protests against Boeing pushed the Seattle Aerospace and Defence Supplier Summit online last month, and students and others protesting the weapons company at Washington University led to more than 80 arrests. Since 2016, students and community members have been urging the Portland State University to sever its ties with the multi-billion dollar weapons manufacturing company Boeing, the University responded to student protests by announcing a pause in its connections with the weapons producer.

Boeing is just one part of the defence industry, including nuclear weapon producers, that has increasingly reached out to universities for partnerships and cooperation around a range of issues. These partnerships create a pathway for those companies to recruit students and capitalise on emerging research, including towards the development of weapons of mass destruction.

The significant outpouring of support across university campuses in recent weeks to end universities ties to the defence sector has been primarily linked to the ongoing war in Gaza. However, the ties between universities and the weapons industry run deep- from university endowments gaining profits from investments in weapons companies to direct donations from those companies to campus efforts.  There are also connections between the defence sector, defence departments and universities which are frequently kept out of public view.

ICAN’s report, Schools of Mass Destruction, unveils many of these connections and illustrates the pathways in which the nuclear weapons industry permeates higher education. Throughout history, students have frequently been at the forefront of demanding significant social change. Recent massive student protests demonstrate the possibility for universities to exit  institutional relationships with the weapons industry that undermine university and student values.