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
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 email@example.com.