Pro-Palestinian protestors occupy building on MUN's St. John's campus

Alida Zedel, Sadie Mees, Hanaa Mekawy are Memorial University students involved in the pro-Palestinian occupation of the Arts and Administration building on MUN's St. John's campus. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Alida Zedel, Sadie Mees, Hanaa Mekawy are Memorial University students involved in the pro-Palestinian occupation of the Arts and Administration building on MUN's St. John's campus. (Darrell Roberts/CBC - image credit)
Alida Zedel, Sadie Mees, Hanaa Mekawy are Memorial University students involved in the pro-Palestinian occupation of the Arts and Administration building on MUN's St. John's campus.
Alida Zedel, Sadie Mees, Hanaa Mekawy are Memorial University students involved in the pro-Palestinian occupation of the Arts and Administration building on MUN's St. John's campus.

Alida Zedel, Sadie Mees and Hanaa Mekawy are Memorial University students involved in the pro-Palestinian occupation of the arts and administration building on MUN's St. John's campus. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

A group of pro-Palestinian protestors are sleeping in the lobby of the arts and administration building on Memorial University's St. John's campus, following similar protests at other universities in Canada and other parts of the world.

About 20 protestors were in the lobby on Monday afternoon. Sadie Mees, an anthropology graduate student, said some protestors began sleeping in the lobby Friday night after campus enforcement officers asked the group to leave the building during an informal event.

Mees said the group contacted the student union's lawyer, who affirmed that the group had a right to be in the space.

"We felt that as students and protestors we have a right to be here and we won't be dismissed and we want to be heard, so we've been here since 6 p.m. on Friday," she said.

Protestors erected a pro-Palestinian encampment on MUN's St. John's campus three weeks ago, similar to those at university's in Montreal, Toronto and Calgary.

The group presented several demands to university administration, including disclosure of any investments in arms manufacturers or other entities tied to Israel's war in Gaza, and divestment from those entities.

The protestors also want the university to develop a policy for investments which would bar investments in weapons manufacturing or entities tied to human rights abuses.

Protestors have erected signage in the Arts and Administration building lobby.
Protestors have erected signage in the Arts and Administration building lobby.

Protestors have erected signage in the arts and administration building lobby. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Hanaa Mekawy, a political science and anthropology major, said that demand isn't just about the ongoing war in Gaza — it's about other ongoing and future conflicts, too.

"This also affects countless other people in the world," she said.

'We don't know' where investments go, says admin

In a statement issued last week, a spokesperson said the university has endowment funds, non-endowment funds and pension funds managed by external investment management firms. According to MUN, these funds could hold several thousand corporate names or financial instruments.

In an interview on Tuesday, Dennis Peters, acting associate vice-president academic, said those investments change, sometimes daily.

"We can't say that we have investments in Company A or Company B on a given basis, a given day, because we don't know, quite simply," he said.

Dennis Peters is Memorial University's acting associate VP academic (students).
Dennis Peters is Memorial University's acting associate VP academic (students).

Dennis Peters is Memorial University's acting associate vice-president academic. (Darrell Roberts/CBC)

Alida Zedel, a protestor and executive director of campaigns with the university's student union, wants administration to find out.

"We just want that transparency there," they said.

Peters said the university is reviewing its investment processes and trying to be more transparent, but did not commit to divesting from any entities.

Protestors have also called on the university to make a statement "condemning the ongoing genocide" and calling for a ceasefire.

Peters said while the university supports an end to violence, it isn't prepared to make that statement because of its political nature.

Admin not ruling out involving law enforcement

Alec Brookes, associate professor of gender studies and interim head of the anthropology department, said as of Monday 139 faculty members had signed an open letter in support of student protestors.

He said the university's response to the protest flies in the face of its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion.

"There's a genocide happening right now before our eyes, on our phones, that we're all watching, and they're shrugging their shoulders at these demands? It's not acceptable," he said.

Peters said the university supports the right to peaceful protest, but does not condone the occupation in the arts and administration lobby.

"When or how we can enforce against that is complicated, and I can't say when exactly we're going to be able to have them out," he said. "We've already asked them to leave."

Peters said, so far, university administration has not contacted police because of the protest, but has not ruled out involving law enforcement — though he hopes the occupation ends peacefully.

Mees also hopes law enforcement don't need to get involved.

"Calling the police on a peaceful protest of students who want to end violence would just be a blatant misuse of resources," she said.

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