In recent weeks, student-led demonstrations have occurred on campus over the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the student unions’ dispute with York.
On Oct. 23, an “All Out for Gaza” protest began outside of Vari Hall, led by the Palestinian Solidarity Collective (PSC). Other unions, like the York Federation of Students (YFS) and CUPE 3903, attended the protest.
Crowds gathered outside near the Harry W. Arthurs Common Flagpole on a cool and crisp, bright autumn day. The event began with a few speakers, including a student affiliated with the PSC.
“Being Palestinian means a lot of things. It means being tired. Tired of the silence of the world. Tired of the constant cycle of pain our people are cursed with, and even being tired of the news of the new atrocities being committed to our people, our homes, constantly.
“It also means being scared, scared of the fact that anyone could walk past me and view me as being lesser than.
“Thirteen have been killed on my dad’s side so far and just recently eight on my mom’s as well. These fears of mine are real, and these are fears of not just me, but the rest of the students at York,” the student adds.
York security services monitored the situation. CTV News was also present, reporting on the event. After the opening remarks, the group began their walk around campus.
Chanted throughout the protest were statements such as: “Free the people free the land, no peace on stolen land,” “Israel is a terrorist state,” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “No justice, no peace.”
Other chants were directed at the university, like “York University what do you say? York University what do you say? How many kids have you killed today? How many kids have you killed today?”
A third-year PhD student of social and political thought came across the protest by accident, yet decided to participate to show support for the initiative.
“I hope that this demonstration gets across, especially to the administration, the threats of freedom of speech, and just even dissenting views,” the student says.
The student was also concerned about York’s response to the three student unions’ statement of solidarity with Palestine, and said it sets a “very egregious precedent.”
“With the ahistorical perspectives that the York administration [has] offered as their justification for supporting this, the state of Israel in this conflict demonstrates the need for careful consideration and deliberation when it comes to these kinds of conflicts and addressing them in the future,” the student adds.
The protest concluded at Kaneff Tower after the campus walk. Other Jewish students gathered outside, away from the tower, situated closer to Vari Hall. One student was holding the Israel flag.
Jacob Berman, the advocacy intern at Hillel, was standing with other Jewish students. He notes that he and others were yelled at by some people leaving the protest. They told him, “You guys support terrorists, you are terrorists.”
“They were chanting ‘Viva Intifada.’ And the Intifada is a call to violence and a scary thing to hear as a Jewish student on campus,” says Berman.
“Even other stuff that they’re shouting, ‘no justice, no peace,’ that’s another concerning statement to hear. You don’t know how they feel about it, whether that means towards Jewish students, towards Israel in general.
“You don’t really know. It kind of makes me feel like I have to walk through campus with my head on a swivel, especially that with my Jewish star open,” he adds.
In the same week, two protests took place outside of Vari Hall about the current dispute between the university and the three student unions.
On Oct. 25, the Union Solidarity Front hosted a “Students United, Will Never Be Defeated” protest. During that demonstration, the Solidarity Front handed out brochures about the group’s objection to York’s response to the three student unions.
YFS President Ashley D’Souza began the event by chanting, “From the river to the sea,” to which the crowd then responded: “Palestine will be free.”
“Despite the consistent attempts of the York University administration to silence our unions, we remain unwavering in our support for freedom and liberation, and ultimately our support for the students at York University.
“As we all gather here today, collectively, we send this university a firm reminder that we are autonomous, and we will not be bullied, silenced, or removed from this campus,” said D’Souza.
In addition, YFS, Glendon College Student Union (GCSU), and York University Graduate Student Association (YUGSA) organized a “Rally For Student Autonomy” on Oct. 27.
On Oct. 30, Hillel and other Jewish students led a demonstration where they walked through the front halls of campus, holding posters that showcased the names and photos of the people kidnapped and currently held hostage by Hamas.
Since then, other protests and demonstrations have taken place on campus. On Thursday, Nov. 23, the three student unions are set to have a “Walkout against YorkU.”
Following the recent activities, temporary fencing was placed outside of Vari Hall, blocking the main entrance to the building as well as areas around Harry W. Arthurs Common.
In an Instagram post from Oct. 31, the student unions objected to the fencing, stating that York “has erected physical barriers in order to stop students from standing up against them in the name of, ‘safety.’ WE CALL BULLSHIT! This is just one of the various tactics that York is using to silence us and keep us complacent. SHAME!”
In the post, the student unions also claim that York’s temporary fences are part of the university’s history of silencing marginalized voices. They cite the front kiosk in Vari Hall as an example of preventing student protests within the building.
Yanni Dagonas, York’s chief media advisor and deputy spokesperson, said the environmental changes aim to prevent accidents caused by slippery or icy conditions due to colder temperatures. He also said the changes respond to safety requests from participating students.
“We will continue to be responsive and open with our communication and preparations to anyone who reaches out to us. Our foremost priority is to maintain a safe environment for our community to express themselves safely,” says Dagonas.
Dagonas emphasizes that York affirms students’ rights to support and express political views concerning Israel and Palestine: “To be clear, there has been no attempt on the part of the university administration to interfere with pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli expression.”
— With Files From Harshita Choudhary