“Notes from Council” is The Gateway’s ongoing series of recaps of noteworthy items from Students’ Council meetings.
This is part one of coverage on this meeting. Part two can be found here.
During open forum at the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) Students’ Council meeting on November 21, students spoke to council about the statement released by the UASU on November 20.
The statement discussed the “ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine,” and its impacts on the U of A community. In it, the UASU said they “condemn all forms of discrimination and harassment, including but not limited to antisemitism, anti-Palestinian, anti-Israeli, anti-Arab racism, and Islamophobia.”
At the November 21 meeting, council unanimously voted to move executive reports, question period, and open forum to the beginning. Council also unanimously voted to extend open forum to an hour.
UASU’s “top priority is the well-being and safety of the students affected,” president says
In his oral executive report, UASU President Christian Fotang acknowledged the “ongoing violence in the Middle East.”
“This has been [a] difficult time for the world and [an] especially difficult time for our campus community. Students are in pain,” Fotang said. He added the UASU’s “top priority is the well-being and safety of the students affected.”
The UASU has been working with the Dean of Students (DoS) to support Jewish and Palestinian students directly affected by the conflict, Fotang said. He added that in early October, the UASU ensured the university communicated directly with affected students. This involved providing messages of support and comprehensive information on available resources, including financial, mental, spiritual, and academic support.
According to Fotang, the UASU is assisting affected students in seeking leaves of absence. They are also advocating for flexibility regarding exam deferrals and reduced class participation. Additionally, Fotang is communicating with student leaders and members of the U of A’s Jewish and Palestinian communities. This is “to understand their needs better and ensure that their needs inform [the UASU’s] support.” The UASU is also working through calls to action sent by student organizations via letters and emails, Fotang added.
As well, the UASU is communicating student’s dissatisfaction with the “red tape” involved in organizing peaceful protests to DoS, Fotang said. The current policy regarding student group events requires that events are submitted for approval a “minimum of 15 full business days prior to the event.”
Lastly, Fotang addressed the importance of safety on campus, and said that “safety for students is critical.”
“Doxing and abuse of students is unacceptable and does not foster a culture of safety and inclusive dialogue.”
“This is also a moment for us as a council to show leadership by speaking and acting with compassion, and sensitivity for fellow students, regardless of their identity,” Fotang said. “Let’s work together as a community through this difficult time.”
Fightback Member urges UASU to “play a leading role in supporting the movements of students”
Holly Quilty, a member of Fightback, an international Marxist group, spoke during open forum. She said the UASU was “shamefully neutral” in their recent statement. According to Quilty, they had previously stood against the invasion of Ukraine, and against the invasion of Iraq. However, in their response to the violence in Israel and Palestine, the UASU put out a neutral statement, “condemning all bad things in general.”
“The UASU is not neutral on every political question. And [they] should not be,” Quilty said. “It should actually be playing a leading role in … supporting the movements of students.”
Additionally, Quilty urged the UASU to “to oppose Canadian imperialism that’s benefiting from this crisis, to defend students and professors against political repression, and ultimately to work to liberate the Palestinian people.”
Students continue to share thoughts on UASU’s statement during open forum
Student Izza Javed said that the UASU categorized “the discrimination of Palestinians as being on the same page as [being] anti-Israel.” She described this as offensive to affected students, and added that the neutral statement ignores the Palestinian death toll.
In a later statement, Javed urged the UASU to reassess if their statement represents what they stand for. As well, she said the “rhetoric that the [UASU] is spreading” negatively impacts Arab, Muslim, and Palestinian students.
“It’s not what we want represented as students,” Javed said.
Student and former arts councillor Haruun Ali said he was “shocked to see the term anti-Israeli” in the statement. Ali said the UASU must call for a ceasefire and be “unequivocal in the support of Palestinian students. The same way that they were supportive of Ukrainian … and Iranian students.”
Student urges council to remain impartial, other students share concerns
In support of the UASU’s statement, student and former UASU Chief Returning Officer Matin Koohkan urged council to remain impartial.
“You are representing Jewish students, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists — individuals from all walks of life,” he said. In a later statement, Koohkan said that statements made by other students “show pro-Hamas rhetoric.” He added that Muslim and Jewish U of A students “deserve the same protection [and the] same respect,” which is what the UASU has accomplished with their statement.
Student Prometheus Voaklander questioned the UASU’s use of “anti-Israeli hate” in their statement. He added that demanding policies like a ceasefire doesn’t constitute anti-Israeli hate. Additionally, Voaklander also spoke on Ukrainian students paying the domestic tuition rate at the U of A.
“This absolutely has to be applied to Palestinian students. Frankly, I think this should be applied for all student refugees.”
Student Nisrin Salah said Palestinian students are “advocating for [their] Palestinian identity and [their] right to exist.”
“We’re here to amplify our voices and to call for an end to hostilities for any civilians anywhere.”
Student Luis Cifuentes addressed the UASU executives. He said calling for a ceasefire puts Canada and the U of A on the “right side of history.”
“There should be equity and consistency with the levels of support,” Fotang says
Student Marija Cvetkovska directed her question to the executives. Cvetkovska mentioned she emailed Fotang to ask about calling for a ceasefire and what services could be provided to Palestinian students and refugees.
“You said the exact same thing that you’ve said during this session, which isn’t really more than what the average student is provided,” Cvetkovska said. “So why [aren’t] Palestinian students at the U of A not getting the same treatment as Ukrainian students?”
Fotang said the UASU wanted the services they pushed the U of A to offer Palestinian and Jewish students to be “consistent and in line with any past services that the U of A has offered.”
“There should be equity and consistency with the levels of support. That’s why we have brought it up with folks like the registrar’s office. And we’ll continue to bring it up.”
Cvetkovska later addressed another question to Fotang.
“Who actually is in charge of these decisions of these statements that are being posted on Instagram about what the U of A is able to do for students? Who is in charge?”
Fotang said the UASU has been “working diligently” to meet with the different offices at the U of A and bring forward students’ concerns.
Melissa Padfield, deputy provost (students and enrolment), and Carrie Smith, vice provost (equity, diversity, and inclusion), were present at the meeting. Padfield told guests that she and Smith would be able to connect students with support.
Director of Hillel Edmonton gives a statement
Jacob Oshry, a student and director at Hillel Edmonton/Jewish Students’ Association, gave a statement.
“Denying Jewish people the right to self-determination through things like claiming the existence of the State of Israel is a racist endeavour, is antisemitic under the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition of anti-semitism. Which has been adopted by both the Government of Alberta and the Government of Canada.”
Ali made a statement responding to Oshry. Ali said critiquing a government should not be “conflated with racism.”
“It is not racist to condemn government policies that are funding the genocide of the Palestinian people.”
Subsequently, Oshry responded and said he was not suggesting that the Israeli government should be immune from criticism.
“There’s a very big difference between criticizing Israeli government policy, vis-à-vis their military or government actions, and criticizing Israel in terms of its general existence as a state.”
Note: Two speakers declined inclusion in the article. Any speakers who did not provide their surname to The Gateway were excluded from this article.