Bristol SU Officer Statement in solidarity with Palestine criticises university’s approach

‘We are disappointed by the approach the University of Bristol has taken when speaking about this issue’

Bristol University’s Student Union has released a statement on Palestine and Student Activism today (17th May), in response to the encampment taking place on Royal Fort Gardens, in solidarity with Palestine, which began on 1st May.

You can read the full statement here. 

The SU’s full time officer team began the statement by encouraging Bristol Uni students to exercise their rights to protest around this issue.

“Peaceful protest is a crucial way for people to have their voices heard by those in power.

“We continue to be devastated by the war in Palestine and Israel, and hope to see an end to all violence, an immediate ceasefire, a return of hostages, and ultimately a free Palestine.” 

The statement then assures that in light of the “terrifying” events in America, where extreme hostility has been shown to student protestors, that the SU will “always aim to protect the wellbeing and defend the rights of student activists, such as those in Royal Fort Gardens.” 

“No one should feel unsafe in our campus – to exist, to study, or to protest and speak out.” 

The statement then criticises the university’s approach towards the Israel/Palestine conflict.

“While we understand the difficult position that British universities may currently be in, we are disappointed by the approach the University of Bristol has taken when speaking about this issue.

“We agree with Vice Chancellor Evelyn Welch that ‘it is more than ever that we uphold our shared values of mutual respect, support and compassion.’

“However, we know that many students affected by this tragic conflict, do not feel that they have been given sufficient support and compassion from the University since October 7; we ask that the university does more going forward.” 

This is referring to the Vice Chancellor’s recent statement sent to students last week, on 8th May, which stressed that the university is required ‘to remain impartial as an institution’. You can read the Vice Chancellor’s full statement here.

The SU statement then echoes calls for the university to cut ties with arms companies, something that has been a primary motivation behind student pro-Palestine protests, including the occupations of the Victoria Rooms and Wills Memorial Building.

“As an Officer Team, we completely support, and echo calls for our university to cut ties with the defence industry”. The SU has an active policy on this matter.

The Vice Chancellor’s recent statement did not include the word ‘Palestine’ when speaking about the conflict, something that the SU has criticised. 

“We continue to question why the University will not use the word ‘Palestine’ when speaking about the conflict, something which Palestinian students have pointed out feels like an erasure of their identities and their nation. We urge for the words ‘Palestine and Israel’ to be used in the future, as opposed to just the ‘Middle East’ and ‘Gaza’. 

“The VC stated in her message that the university cannot “adopt an institutional position in relation to the ongoing conflict”, as the university’s “role is to enable staff and students to express themselves freely, not to become an advocate for one view or another.”

“While we understand this – it must be recognised that not all students and staff do feel able to express themselves freely on this matter, partly due to the university’s approach thus far.

“We hope to see continued, and hopefully increasingly productive, conversations between the University executive team, including the Vice Chancellor, and affected students, staff and activists as we all continue to learn how to adjust to the realities of this conflict and its sustained impact on our campus.” 

The Officer Team is encouraging students to attend the upcoming University Senate meeting on Monday 17 June. As mentioned in the VC’s message, the University has recognised a growing need to assess the suitability of third-party relations with a focus on the defence industry and this will be explored in this meeting.

Students can communicate their views through representatives at Senate and a full list of members, including undergraduate and postgraduate representatives is here. 

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “We fully respect the rights of our students to peacefully protest within the law.  We recognise the distress and impact the ongoing violence and conflict in Israel-Gaza is having on staff and students, our role as a university is to support everyone in our community who may be impacted, whilst ensuring that members of our community are able to express themselves lawfully.

“It is more important than ever that we maintain our shared values of mutual respect, support, and compassion for each other, whatever our individual views on the conflict. Every member of our community should feel safe and included on our campuses and we ask everyone to respect and support each other at this time. There is no place for any form of racism, antisemitism, islamophobia, discrimination, incitement, bullying or harassment at the University of Bristol.

“We will continue to share information on how to get help and support where it is needed and are in close contact with all affected communities, including our student societies, to offer ongoing support as required.”

Related articles recommended by this author:

PETA activists confront Bristol Uni’s vice chancellor in New York about forced swim tests

Jewish student in Bristol Uni encampment told to be ‘ashamed’ of their pro-Palestine views

Bristol’s student music scene: A sit down with Edward Granshaw, an up and coming musician