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Calgary Student Movement addresses U of C’s alleged refusal to engage with their demands in press conference

By Vama Saini, June 12 2024—

On June 6, CSM held a press conference outside of MacEwan Hall to address the university administration’s decision to reject their terms for a meeting. This development comes after the controversial response to a May 9 encampment on campus, which resulted in a significant backlash from students and allegations of police brutality.

“Our encampment posed no safety risks, nor were our encampments confronted by counter-protestors, like the university claims. U of C administration is solely responsible for escalating the student encampment,” said Keegan Colwell, CSM media representative. 

CSM’s demands included allowing adequate time to secure legal representation and a preliminary discussion of the meeting’s agenda with its members. 

“We were just seeking to have someone advise us before — to make sure that the university is accountable. We see what they have done as just a PR move and have expressed already that they are not acting in good faith [and] do not engage with our demands,” said Colwell. 

These demands, according to CSM, were aimed at ensuring fair and transparent dialogue. The university’s refusal to accommodate these conditions led CSM to boycott a scheduled meeting between student groups and university officials. 

Contrary to official statements from the university and CPS that no injuries occurred on May 9, CSM claims to have testimonies and evidence of student injuries allegedly caused by police actions. 

“We have testimonies from several students. We have records of hospitalizations as well,” said Colwell. 

U of C student Erin Novakowski expressed disappointment with the university’s response to the encampments. 

“Since May 9, I have learned that this institution is comfortable calling violent police on students as soon as our peaceful, collective action is no longer favourable to the administration. I’ve also learned that this institution is comfortable staying silent and complicit while tens of thousands of Palestinians are murdered,” said Novakowski. “While these two things remain true, UCalgary students will never be able to feel safe or proud of this institution.”

Dr. Mukarram Zaidi, a Clinical Associate Professor with the Cumming School of Medicine, recounted his attempt to provide medical aid to injured students, which was reportedly obstructed by police. 

“I told them ‘I’m the official medic for the protest and that children would get harmed, and I need to treat them.’ I was not allowed to come to the students, and I was told I would be arrested if I walked through,” said Zaidi. 

“I have seen concussions, lacerations and bruises on patients, and this was done by police brutality,” Zaidi continued. 

Dr. Ronnie Joy Leah, a former faculty member and member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), voiced her support for the students and criticized the university’s stance on the protests and divestment issues.

“Other universities have also taken a stand, where they’ve agreed to students demands to investigate divestment. It’s shameful that the U of C refuses to take a stand against genocide despite all the talk about Indigenous rights, and diversity, equity, and inclusion,” said Leah. 

Four social work students — Lindsay Bodrug, Rachel Pettigrew, Amber Feldmann, and Rubina Zaman — were present in the crowd during the press conference. They shared their perspectives on the university’s response and the broader implications for student activism with the Gauntlet

“The response from administration on May 9 was a complete failure of leadership. I think it also broke down further trust between students and administration and shut down any streams of communication to further discuss and have some critical conversation around the very reasonable requests,” said Bodrug. 

The students emphasized the ethical implications of the university’s stance and the perceived inconsistency between academic values and administrative practices.

“We’re a part of the social work cohort, so our profession and schooling is all about social justice and liberation, and we believe that extends to the people of Palestine and also beyond to Sudan and Congo. We agree with the [CSM’s demands] for disclosure and divestment. We don’t want our student dollars to be funding apartheid, war, or genocide,” said Pettigrew. 

“There is so much hypocrisy in what we are taught and asked to practice. They are two very different things. We don’t want to be just writing or reading things and then not acting on them,” said Zaiman. 

“When things like this happen, it inherently is an act of lateral violence on other marginalized communities and opens up the for things like this to continue,” said Feldmann. “Trauma, emotional, physical or spiritual even, continues to spread on campus, and we don’t have the infrastructure to be supporting folks at the capacity that we like to say that we do.”

When asked what changes or actions they would like to see from the university administration in response to the CSM’s demands, the students emphasized the need for transparency, accountability, and genuine student representation in policy-making. 

“Disclose and divest is number one,” said Pettigrew. “Disclose the positions in faculty that are being funded by Israeli universities, disclose any investment in the use of weapons and AI that is being conducted by the U of C, and then make movements to divest from these systems of aggression.” 

“More transparency and an apology for the way that students were violently shut down during the encampment. Alongside that apology, we need to see concrete actions. Words are not enough,” said Bodrug.

In a statement to the Gauntlet regarding the claims made during the press conference, the university claimed that they have received no reports of injuries from May 9 and have not refused to meet with the CSM.

“The Calgary Police said they’ve received no reports of injuries from May 9. The University of Calgary has not had any injuries reported directly to us. We encourage anyone with injuries to report them to the police, or to ASIRT as part of their investigation. As requested, on June 6 University of Calgary leadership held a meeting with student groups who sent the demands on May 7 (PAC UCalgary). The University has not refused to meet with anyone, nor has it rejected any demands related to the initial meeting.”

More information about CSM can be found on their Instagram page.

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