Organizers say the university must ‘stand for justice’ amid violence, hatred, and colonialism
The words “Free, free Palestine” echoed throughout the UVic campus last Wednesday as hundreds of students made their way around Ring Road toward the Michael Williams Building with six calls to action for the university, President Kevin Hall, and the greater community.
The walkout — organized and endorsed by numerous groups on campus including the UVic Muslim Students Association, Palestinian Youth Movement, Students Open Forum Against Racism, Native Students Union, and Students of Colour Collective — aimed to show solidarity with Palestine.
“As members of the university, we have a responsibility to use our positions to pressure those with institutional power to stand for justice,” said one of the organizers, who has chosen to be identified only as Chrystal, during a speech shortly before the group began their walk toward Hall’s office.
“This is not a war of Muslims against Jews. This is a war against imperialism. This is a war against settler colonialism. This is a war against genocide,” said another speaker. “We all deserve liberation, safety, and equality.”
In a press release, on social media, and through the walkout, the groups called on Hall to publicly condemn “the genocidal actions of the Israeli government,” and “voice his/UVic’s support of the Palestinian struggle for self determination and a return to/of their land.” In addition to releasing a public statement, organizers urge the university to take financial responsibility by divesting from companies that “support Palestinian occupation and genocide,” such as Nestle, Nike, Disney, and the Royal Bank of Canada. They also call on the university and community to “defend and protect Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish students against an increase of hateful, racist rhetoric and attacks.”
On Oct. 13 prior to the walkout, the university shared a statement from Hall on their website and social media accounts. “I write to express, on behalf of our university community, our horror at the terrorist attacks in Israel last week and the shocking violence unfolding in Gaza,” reads the statement. “We acknowledge the pain and suffering experienced by both Israeli and Palestinian communities during these difficult times.”
During the walkout, the organizing groups criticized the statement. “Kevin Hall uses active language to reference Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, but uses passive language to reference the ‘violence unfolding in Gaza,’” said Chrystal in her speech. “He condemns Hamas’ attack on Israel but omits Israel’s accountability for the relentless and indiscriminate bombing of over two million people in Gaza.”
Five days after the walkout, UVic released a second statement. “I echo the messages from around the globe for an urgent cessation of violence against all civilians,” Hall wrote. “I reiterate that we at UVic condemn all forms of hate, violence and intolerance and any form of intimidation or discrimination.”
In an interview after the walkout, organizers told the Martlet that the UVic Students in Solidarity with Palestine are still hoping that the university will take a stronger stance. In a response released Oct. 31, the group called the updated statement “wildly insufficient.” Overall, Chrystal says Hall’s letter is still too broad both in terms of the language used and lack of specifics about how the school plans to uphold safety on campus.
“We have a responsibility to care for all members of our community — including for those on both sides of this conflict,” said a UVic spokesperson, in an email to the Martlet.
According to Chrystal, if the groups’ calls to action are met, the impact would be widespread.
“Not only will it save lives, but it’ll also set an important precedent for the rest of universities across the country,” she said, adding that the changes will help amplify calls for a ceasefire. “It has an enormous amount of potential for Palestinians here on campus, but also globally if the university takes a stand against genocide.
Jacob is another walkout organizer, who has also chosen to use only his first name. “It is very shameful of UVic — considering how invested they are in decolonization — to not outright condemn the Israeli state,” Jacob told the Martlet. Especially in light of the university’s updated Indigenous plan released in September, he says not financially upholding decolonization by divesting is hypocritical.
Along with calling on the university to release a statement condemning the Israeli government’s actions, the groups also ask the same of the UVSS, which released a list of resources on their Instagram. “These past weeks have been filled with profound collective grief,” reads the post. “The violence in Israel and Palestine has been appalling and greatly affected people around the world, including members of our campus.”
In an email to the Martlet, the UVSS executive team said they are currently working on another statement which they have committed to release by the next board meeting on Nov. 6.
“We understand that the lack, so far, of a formal statement from the Board or addressing the demands of the protesters could be painful to some of our members, or come off as apathy,” reads the email. “We have been and are currently continuing to meet with students and community members to put out a statement that stands firm in the values of the Board, while also reducing unintentional harm that can be caused when swiftness is prioritized over mindfulness and consultation.”
Both Chrystal and Jacob say that while their work and dialogue with the university is ongoing, they are pleased with how the walkout went, specifically with the solidarity and diversity of those who helped organize it.
The groups did meet a group of counter protesters as they walked around Ring Road. However, the organizers acknowledged that others have a right to protest and said that, thanks to the groups’ safety marshals, the situation remained peaceful.
The walkout and its calls to action have also been met with criticism online. One post on the UVic Subreddit expressed concern for the safety of Jewish and Israeli students should the calls be met.
“It’s very important to acknowledge that there is a separation of the Israeli state [from] the Israeli people and the Jewish community here on campus,” said Jacob. “Criticism of Israel itself as a state is not the same as hate speech or antisemitism.”
Chrystal also urges the community to consider the repercussions of the university not releasing a statement as outlined in the calls to action. “When we’re talking about condemning genocide, we’re addressing very real safety concerns to students as well,” she said.
In addition to calling on UVic to release a statement, divest, and prioritize safety, the groups also urge the university to take educational responsibility. They hope to see the “occupation and the root causes of the current attacks on Gaza [and the] historical and current atrocities being committed against Palestinians by Israel,” discussed in classrooms. They also urge the community to support medical aid in Palestine through donations.
The calls to action come 18 days after Israel declared a state of war following an attack on Israel by Hamas, which killed approximately 1 400. As of Nov. 2, the United Nations reported that almost 9 000 Palestinians have been killed.
“If nothing is done, there won’t be any people left in that area to advocate for,” said Chrystal.