UVic GSS Statement on Students’ Right to Protest and Peaceful Protest on University Campuses Across Turtle Island

UVic GSS Statement on Students' Right to Protest and Peaceful Protest on University Campuses Across Turtle Island

Signed UVic GSS Statement on Students’ Right to Protest and Peaceful Protest on University Campuses Across Turtle Island

We at the Graduate Students’ Society of the University of Victoria have been monitoring the situation around protests on university campuses across Turtle Island, most especially here at UVic with the People’s Park UVic set up on May 1, 2024. Peaceful protest is a fundamental right and necessary for a functioning democracy. We stand in unwavering support of this right for all university students and community members.

We are writing today to address the range of university and police responses we’ve seen to these protests, from police raids (at UofC, Columbia, and George Washington University) and threats of academic sanctions and expulsions (at VIU) to meaningful dialogues around divestment and the role of peaceful protest on campus at Thompson River University (TRU). We condemn the use of violent force against peaceful protesters and the use of academic sanctions to punish and limit freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Our campus communities should and must be a place for open and respectful dialogue.

Peaceful protests have been part of our campus communities for generations and saw their heyday in the 1960’s and 1970’s in protests around the Vietnam War, Civil Rights, Apartheid-state Divestment and more. Calls for divestment have likewise long been a part of our campus culture, as we’ve seen recently at UVic with the successful Divest UVic campaign to end investment in fossil fuels in 2021.

Unfortunately, the use of police violence in the face of peaceful protest is also nothing new. As we move into a new wave of student protests, we urge the University of Victoria to commit to creating an atmosphere conducive to peaceful protest, open dialogue with protestors, and meaningful democratic engagement of students in all university policies, including the Responsible Investment Policy. We will be meeting with the University of Victoria formally on May 15 to call for divestment and security from academic and professional sanctions for campus community members engaged in peaceful protest. We are demanding dedicated graduate student seats at the table for the working group on UVic’s Responsible Investment policy. These seats will be filled democratically through the GSS’s long-standing student governance structures.

Additionally, we are writing to address the recent security incidents at the People’s Park UVic in which an individual not connected with the University came onto campus and assaulted members of our campus community repeatedly over the course of several hours, followed by an assault which occurred off-campus against the same members of our campus community. These violent incidents have caused multiple people serious injuries, including concussions. This is completely unacceptable.

We are aware from both the University and the People’s Park UVic that there are shared concerns about this individual’s wellbeing and we were happy to hear that a wellness check with this individual to ensure both their own and others’ safety has been called. However, the fact that this individual was able to commit multiple assaults in view of security in the UVic Quad is a significant breach of many University policies aimed at creating a safer campus environment. The function of campus security must be to ensure the safety of all members of the campus community and to defend students’ fundamental right to peaceful protest. This incident, unfortunately, has strongly indicated to many of our members that campus security is more invested in protecting others from peaceful protestors than protecting protestors. We believe that UVic can and must do better. We are calling on the University of Victoria to issue a formal warning to the entire campus community that while peaceful protests are occurring on campus there is an increased security risk around people both from within the campus community and from the surrounding community agitating and potential engaging in further violence. We further call on the University of Victoria to utilize the text and email emergency alert system to notify all UVic community members when there is risk to the wellbeing of any community members.

We look forward to our forthcoming dialogue with UVic regarding their responses to the encampment, which will include a fulsome discussion of the security/police response to the protest, steps taken to engage the protestors, and steps taken towards divestment. We stand firm in our support of the right to peaceful protest without the risk of violence or retaliation from UVic.

In solidarity,

Executive Board of the Graduate Students’ Society

Wyatt Maddox

Kyla Turner
Executive Director

Signed UVic GSS Statement on Students’ Right to Protest and Peaceful Protest on University Campuses Across Turtle Island