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Faculty members call for 'meaningful dialogue' between university, pro-Palestinian protesters

UVic philosophy professor Audrey Yap says the protest encampment has remained peaceful and welcoming, despite violence and misinformation campaigns
UVic philosophy faculty member Audrey Yap and other faculty members are advocating for the university to reach out to students in the Palestine Solidarity Encampment, which began May 1. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

About 70 faculty members at the University of Victoria are calling on university president Kevin Hall to begin ­“meaningful dialogue” with students in a pro-Palestinian encampment on campus.

UVic philosophy associate professor Audrey Yap said faculty members have been present at the encampment every day from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. since it was established on May 1 to support students and help keep them safe.

Speaking in front of the encampment flanked by eight other professors on Friday morning, Yap said the protest encampment has remained peaceful and welcoming, despite violence and misinformation campaigns. Those include people unaffiliated with the encampment distributing flyers in downtown Victoria trying to attract unhoused people to campus, she said.

Members of the encampment have also reported that they were harrassed and assaulted by a man who has since been served a trespass notice by the university.

“We know them. We’ve taught them. We’re incredibly impressed by all the things that they’ve done here,” Yap said of the students, gesturing to the encampment behind her. “They are standing up here for Palestine, the Palestinian people who are being killed in massive numbers.”

The letter sent to Hall on Tuesday and again on Friday offered to facilitate negotiations between Hall and those involved in the encampment. It was signed by faculty from 24 departments, librarians, and four of five elected lead directors of UVic’s undergraduate student union. Yap said the students involved in the encampment are “absolutely willing” to talk to Hall.

On Wednesday, Hall accused encampment organizers of being “incredibly irresponsible” and inviting non-university-affiliated people to occupy the campus quad, pointing to an incident on Tuesday when a man was arrested after allegedly threatening people at the First Peoples House on campus with a knife.

Those in the encampment have said the man was not affiliated with them.

Hall said recent events “perpetrated or enabled by members of the encampment” are challenging people’s sense of safety on campus.

The university did not make anyone available for an ­interview Friday but issued this statement: “The University of Victoria welcomes productive dialogue with People’s Park UVic. Following several attempts, we have heard back from representatives of the encampment and are in active discussions to find a mutually agreeable time for members of our leadership team to meet with them.”

UVic English adjunct professor Shamma Boyarin said Hall has been communicating only through statements despite multiple requests for dialogue. “He knows our names. He could directly tell us.”

UVic’s board of governors meetings, where Hall gives regular updates to UVic’s top governing body, have been virtual since November.

The last in-person meeting on Nov. 28 was disrupted by UVic students calling for the university to take a stronger stance on the conflict in the Middle East and to divest from companies that have dealings with Israel’s military and police.

A spokesperson for the encampment said they have requested a meeting with members of university leadership who can engage “earnestly and in good faith” with the encampment’s demands. Protesters want the university to divest from corporations supporting Israel, cut academic ties in Israel and “condemn the ongoing genocide of Palestinians.”

Business associate professor Adel Guitouni said there’s merit in looking at UVic’s current investments. “It is in the interest of the university actually to do the due diligence in all its investments because it may expose the university to future risk,” he said.

Protesters met student affairs associate vice-president Jim Dunsdon and athletics director Nicole Greengoe last week, but are not interested in UVic’s offer of another meeting with the two because they wouldn’t be able to deal with protesters’ demands, the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson, who declined to give their name, said protesters believe the university is building a case “seemingly to [help] enforce our removal — before they have actually engaged with the conversations around our demands and around divestment.”

The protesters are also calling for no charges or academic penalties against students or faculty involved in the protest.

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