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The pro-Palestine encampment on my university campus is no safety threat

Our university has made one thing clear: they care little about the students who fund them

EducationSocial Movements

Two weeks ago, I visited the pro-Palestine encampment at the University of Waterloo, which I attend, to sit in on a writing workshop. Nearby campers offered me water and a vegetarian sandwich before we sat down together to listen to a local Palestinian lawyer and writer speak about the power of storytelling and imagination. He then invited us to envision a future Gaza in which peace and justice prevail during a group writing activity.

Does this peaceful assembly I’ve just described sound dangerous to you?

To my university’s upper administration, it apparently does. Last Friday, the University of Waterloo issued a legal trespass notice to members of the OccupyUW encampment, arguing that the assembly “creates concern for the safety of people on campus” and “crosses the line to harassment.” The encampment, set up on a wide stretch of open grass, does not obstruct student paths, and solely employs non-violent activism.

If anything, it is the university that has been harassing pro-Palestine students and threatening student safety. They have installed surveillance cameras to watch over the encampment and have called the police on their own students. Just yesterday, the university published court documents on its website showing that it will sue the participants and organizers of the encampment for $1.5 million.

So much for engaging in dialogue.

The university might claim to “uphold the right to free expression” in line with the principles it has received from the Task Force on Freedom of Expression and Inclusive Engagement, but Dr. Emmett MacFarlane, who served on the task force, has himself said that “this trespass notice falls short of adequately explaining and specifying how the situation has become untenable or what the specific safety concerns might be.”

Our university has made one thing clear: they care little about the students who fund them.

Our upper administration, swift to “condemn the reprehensible terrorist attack on Israeli civilians” by Hamas, has failed to mention the brutal, decades-long occupation of Palestine that preceded it, as well as the killing of at least 37,000 Palestinians since October 7. The latter figure includes Dr. Sofyan Taya, our former electrical engineering professor, who was known as “a very gentle soul” before he, his wife, and children were murdered by an Israeli airstrike.

The university set up a fund in Dr. Taya’s name, likely to save face, but they have failed to truly honour him. Some of Dr. Taya’s last words were, “Tell the world this is happening to us.” It is deeply disappointing that the university has refused to listen to his dying words—but we the students will.

I have been moved by the empathy, intellect, and care displayed by local students, activists and community members, whose only request is that our institution fully disclose their financial ties and divest from partnering with institutions complicit in violence and weapons manufacturing.

Students protesting worldwide aren’t a threat to anyone’s safety—we are simply standing up for the Palestinians in Gaza who’ve been denied it. We deserve a say in where our tuition dollars go, and until our institutions take our demands seriously, we’re not going anywhere.

Nadia Khan is a 21 year-old writer interested in the personal, political, and pop culture. Her work has appeared in the Toronto Star, Teen Vogue, and Imprint.

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