UWindsor president meets with pro-Palestinian protest camp leaders

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In what protesters describes as a “good gesture,” leaders of the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Windsor had their first meeting on Monday with the institution’s president.

Jana Alrifai, one of four encampment leaders who joined Monday’s meeting, told the Windsor Star that Robert Gordon agreeing to engage with the group and then listening to their demands left her feeling “hopeful that these negotiations are going to be successful.”

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The meeting follows weeks of having protesters stake out a piece of the campus and after one earlier unsuccessful meeting with other UWindsor administrators. Leaders of the encampment — which protesters dubbed the Liberation Zone, erected May 10 — expressed disappointment that Gordon wasn’t at that initial meeting on May 17.

Monday’s meeting with the head of the university came on the eve of spring convocation, with 5,000 students participating in ceremonies from Tuesday to Friday at the Toldo Lancer Centre near the protest camp.

Earlier in May, graduation ceremonies at the University of Michigan were briefly interrupted by dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters, and other university campuses across North America have seen similar disruptions.

In an emailed statement Tuesday, a spokesperson for the University of Windsor told the Star that “to help facilitate progress, the President met with students from the encampment on Monday in a private meeting along with the Vice-President of People, Equity, and Inclusion, the Vice-President of Finance and Operations, and the Director of Campus Safety.”

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Alrifai said “it shows the willingness of administration, but also our organizing power and strength.

“I think it’s a testament to what the Liberation Zone was able to accomplish. That’s not something that other people were able to get.”

After an “introductory meeting” with Gordon, Alrifai said encampment leaders discussed the specifics of their demands with members of the school’s administration.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest at the University of Windsor’s Toldo Building on Friday, May 31, 2024. DAN JANISSE/Windsor Star Photo by Dan Janisse /Windsor Star

The group’s demands have remained consistent since the creation of the Liberation Zone — urging the university’s administration to financially divest from organizations that benefit from, or support, Israel.

“I feel hopeful that the university will do its job in decolonization,” said Alrifai.

“We want to have our demands met and do right by the Palestinian people.”

Until the group’s demands for the university to disclose and divest its investments are met, Alrifai said the encampment will continue to remain on campus.

She said about 20 students continue to sleep at the encampment every night.

“We’re still at the table,” she said, “and we’re still going to be around while these negotiations are happening.”

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Windsor’s encampment mirrors similar protest sites at other North American campuses.

Administration at the University of Toronto recently sought an injunction and are currently awaiting a hearing to remove its encampment.

Protesters and administration at McMaster University in Hamilton, however, recently reached an agreement that met some of the group’s demands.

The UWindsor spokesperson said that discussions were continuing on Tuesday.

The campus protests were launched in opposition to Israel’s continuing military response to the Oct. 7 attack on Israel from Gaza by Hamas — which Canada considers a terrorist group — which saw the massacre of more than 1,100 people and the taking of about 250 others as hostages.


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