OccupyUW calls for university to take direct action

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Photo of billboard featured at the Gaza House encampment.

Occupy University of Waterloo (OccupyUW) launched their encampment “Gaza House” in front of the Graduate House building on campus to protest the University of Waterloo’s complicity and involvement in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

The encampment was first set up at 7 a.m. on May 13. This occupation follows a series of encampments and protests enacted by other universities across the United States, Canada and Europe. The encampment features a low fence, chairs, tents, speakers and Palestinian flags – it also has a variety of posters with messages such as “End Israeli Apartheid” and “Silence is Complicity.”

“We’re all getting really fed up with the complicity of our governments and institutions,” said Nicholas Joseph, OccupyUW’s media liaison. “It doesn’t sit well in my conscience that I’m coming here to study at an academic institution and with my dollars, they’re being sent to bomb children and hospitals.”

Joseph shares the protest’s three specific demands. He said the university must disclose all of their in- vestments, divest from companies directly contributing to the “most documented genocide of all time” and institute a formal academic boycott of these companies.

Joseph said the encampment is the students’ final stand in a series of protests against the university. He said students reached out to the administration continuously over the past three terms, including through senate meetings, petitions, email campaigns, rallies and vigils.

Voices for Palestine, a student-run club on campus, hosted the largest protest in the university’s history in November with over 1,200 protesters in attendance.

“The university’s complicity is far reaching, and it’s happened for a long time,” said Joseph. “We can’t wait any more for bureaucracy and we can’t wait anymore for the university’s apathy and investment interests.”

We are not doing this in isolation, this is a global movement of encampments. We’re sick of complicity, and this demands urgency.

Nicholas Joseph, media liaison for OccupyUW

In an email to The Cord, Rebecca Elming, UW’s director of media relations and issue management, said the university is committed to considering the issues regarding their investments.

“We have already begun to engage with the group who have established an encampment on Waterloo’s main campus,” said Elming. “We intend to remain in dialogue with the organizers of the protest to ensure that the encampment remains safe for everyone on the campus.”

On June 3, OccupyUW posted a message on their Instagram about meeting with the university administration.

“Last week we met with the UW Admin and yet again they continue to show complete disregard to their complicity,” said OccupyUW. “Our message is clear: marginal concessions will not appease us.”

Elming said the university prioritizes the health and safety of the community and is focused on ensuring normal operations. She also said that cameras with clear signage were installed to ensure everybody’s safety.

On June 10, the university held a special senate meeting with more than 20 senate members made up of both faculty and students to discuss the encampment’s demands.

“As a result of our collective efforts, our first demand of disclosure has been fully met,” said
a member of the encampment in a video posted to OccupyUW’s Instagram. “The students of this encampment want commitments, not committees.”

On June 3, the university announced they have disclosed information about its investments and has already started work on two task forces to review their guidelines for future investments. On June 21, lawyers representing the university served members of the encampment a legal trespass notice.

“You have been asked verbally and in writing to leave the premises and have not complied with the request,” reads the notice. “The University will pursue consequences under University policies, and/or agreements, and the law.”

Student populations across the world have resorted to on-campus encampments for several reasons, including how their universities are using student tuition towards funding interests in the Israel-Hamas war as well as their administration’s general disregard for other forms of student protests.

“We are not doing this in isolation, this is a global movement of encampments. We’re sick of complicity, and this demands urgency,” said Joseph. “It’s time that we, as a community, stand up.”

On June 25, the university filed an injunction against the encampment, declaring $1.5 million in damages from a named list of seven students, Jane Doe, John Doe and “persons unknown.”


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