UWindsor president meets with pro-Palestinian encampment leaders for the 1st time

After weeks of protesting, the leaders of a pro-Palestinian encampment say their first meeting with the president of the University of Windsor has been "optimistic" so far.

Jana Jandal Alrifai, co-organizer of the encampment, told CBC News Monday during a break from the meeting that the group is hopeful that they will have "productive negotiations to get a resolution."

She added that it seems there is a "collective understanding" and a verbal agreement of intent. Jandal Alrifai didn't share any further details at this time.

CBC News reached out to the University of Windsor asking for an interview with president Robert Gordon following the meeting.

It's unclear how long the meeting will be going on for. The group had previously met with the university on May 17, but said it was disappointed at the time because the president did not attend and it felt that the meeting wasn't in "good faith."

The University of Windsor's pro-Palestinian encampment started as a protest on May 9. A day later, people set up tents on the lawn across from Dillon Hall and have been sleeping on campus ever since.

Encampments similar to this have been set up at universities across Canada and the United States, with the groups largely demanding that their academic institutions disclose and divest any investments that benefit Israel.

The group in Windsor has six demands it wants the university to meet: disclose investments that benefit Israel, divest of those investments, declare a stance in the war, defend and support students and boycott academic institutions with ties to Israel.

68 UWindsor faculty, staff sign open letter asking school to take action

On Thursday, faculty and instructors with the University of Windsor wrote and sent an open letter to Gordon saying that they were "concerned" over the school's "institutional response to the ongoing genocide in Gaza."

The letter lists nine demands for the university, including:

  • Accepting the demands of the encampment organizers.

  • Ensure its Responsible Investment Policy includes divesting from corporations that profit from genocide and actively complying with this policy.

  • Creating relationships with Palestinian universities and academics and creating fellowships to support students or academics from Gaza.

  • Acknowledge and include anti-Palestinian racism "as a form of discrimination that is condemned and prohibited."

  • Don't allow law enforcement or security on campus to oversee those protesting.

The letter states that "it is absolutely untenable that the University of Windsor continues to maintain its silence and inaction," especially given recent events happening at the university.

In particular, the letter mentions that the University of Windsor Student Alliance agreed last month to create its own committee to ensure that its investments and partnerships aren't supporting Israel.

It notes that in April, the University of Windsor Faculty Association stated in April that pension funds would be divested from "companies and investments complicit in Israeli war crimes or illegal occupation."

And it also says the university has been silent following a "severe instance of racism" that happened at St. Clair College last month where a security guard denied a woman who was wearing a keffiyeh from entering a school building.

As of Monday afternoon, 68 faculty members and instructors had signed the letter — at least 23 signatures were anonymous.

Some members of the faculty who spoke with CBC News on Monday say they're disappointed the letter has not prompted a response from university administration.

"The fact that we have had no response from the university administration at all, I think it's extremely problematic to put in mildly," said Vasanthi Venkatesh, an associate professor in the university's faculty of law.

Faculty members did not attend Monday's meeting between encampment organizers and university administration.

Vincent Wong, an assistant professor in the faculty of law, says that support for the student encampments is growing.

"The faculty and students, the major bodies have already had their say on this ... The students are really just there to say, you have to you have to do something," he said.

"Meetings and progress is not action, right, is not implementation …. We're concerned that they might just be bogging it down with meetings, with performances, right, that meeting with the students, of procedure, instead of actually responding to this really urgent situation."

Responses to pro-Palestinian encampments at universities across Canada have been varied. At the University of Toronto, school administration recently sought an injunction, currently awaiting a hearing, to remove the encampment.

But at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., protesters and school administration recently came to an agreement that met some of the students' demands.

Convocation ceremonies begin June 4 and end June 7.