Student union representatives deserve protection

York University’s prosecution of its student unions is unfair.

In response to their Oct. 12 joint statement that called Hamas’ attacks a strong act of resistance to Israel’s occupation of Palestine, York University is threatening to withdraw recognition of its three student unions. President of the undergraduate student union the York Federation of Students (YFS) Ashley D’Souza called this response an attack on student autonomy.

This conflict prompts the question of whether it’s appropriate for institutions to make statements on political and social conflicts, particularly ones as divisive as the current war in the Middle East.

Many organizations—student unions and corporations alike—seem to feel pressured to make statements about every social issue that arises. Increased awareness and advocacy are important, but the oversaturation of media with public statements can accomplish the opposite.

Aside from desensitizing the public and distracting from more meaningful discourse, taking a public stance without substantial corresponding action behind it is largely useless.

Student unions are tasked with representing the students who elect them. Making political statements about wars across the world isn’t always in line with that responsibility—but supporting students who are distressed by the conflicts is.

Students who feel alienated by their unions’ statements may easily be dissuaded from engaging with the student government when they require its services or support. York’s student unions could’ve condemned violence against innocent Israelis without withdrawing support from Palestine or detracting from their original statement. Doing so might have prevented students on either side of the conflict from feeling alienated.

As much as universities must make their students feel safe, they must also protect academic freedom.

Political activity is fuelled by academic thought and warrants protection under the right to academic freedom. As students, York’s student union representatives have the right to express their political opinions and to subsequently engage in critical discourse.

Unless speech is explicitly hateful, universities shouldn’t silence it.

York is entitled to disagree with its unions’ statement—the University differentiating itself from its student unions may even be beneficial in helping students understand the two organizations are distinct from one another.

The University isn’t, however, justified in discrediting its student unions.

Students have a right to representation in the form of student unions and in the officials they gave a mandate through free and fair elections. Withdrawing recognition from these organizations conveys disregard for both of those rights.

The extent to which the conflict between York and its student unions has taken place in public media is equally troubling.

Undoubtedly, the YFS, York University Graduate Student Association, and the Glendon College Student Union must be receiving a myriad of daily hateful communications from the public in response to their statement. York University shouldn’t be adding to the violence being directed towards its students for the sake of its own reputation.

Universities silencing students they don’t agree with sets a dangerous precedent.

As representatives and as students, York’s student union workers deserve better.

—Journal Editorial Board


Israel, Palestine, Student voice, York University

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to

Comments (2)

  • Nobody has a right to support the slaughter of innocent civilians. This is absolutely gross.
    Do you actually believe you can gaslight people into viewing this as a mere political disagreement. We are talking about open support for terrorist organizations. I can’t believe this is real life.

  • My friend was an elected member of the YSF executive ten years ago. He found career students(had been there for years) running the executive for their own political agenda. They bullied and intimidated him, never let him express his opinions or those of the students he represented. Eventually he gave up. That is what the class action is all about, suppression of freedom of expression, not the other way around.
    Unfortunately, many student unions in the last twenty plus years have become just that outposts for a funded political agenda which does not represent the majority of the students and suppresses dialogue and freedom of speech. Its actually frightening. I definitely agree with the other editorial. Students should become aware of what their unions stand for. But it is difficult, when often the unions come with a platform for their agenda, newspapers , student radio etc. Also when they intimidate and bully even members of their own executive. Also when frankly most students are just trying to pass exams , graduate and have a bit of a life in-between.
    But the danger of not paying attention is frightening and real. Ten years ago my friend should have had more support. What will the next ten years bring if students are silent.

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