AUT students rally in support as Gaza encampment at Auckland Uni scrapped

May 2, 2024

AUT students rally in support as Gaza encampment at Auckland Uni scrapped

Auckland University of Technology students in Hikuwai Plaza, City Campus preparing to stand in solidarity in support of UoA Gaza Student Rally. Photo: Regina Tao

AUT students stood in solidarity with those in Auckland University whose planned overnight encampment for Gaza protest was downgraded to a rally.

A compromise was reached by AU vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater and the encampment organisers The University of Auckland (UoA) Student Justice for Palestine to peacefully protest with a rally instead, with less disruption to the campus than the original plan camping last night in front of the general library.

NZ Police were contacted about the encampment and the university wanted to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of their students, said vice-chancellor Professor Dawn Freshwater in an email:

"The decision has been made to work constructively with the students to facilitate a peaceful and lawful protest on campus but not to support the establishment of an overnight encampment.”

“This compromise enables students and staff who wish to express their views to do so in a peaceful and lawful manner, without introducing significant risks.”

Not every student was convinced by the downgrade.

UoA student Rumaine Singh Grewal believes that the last-minute cancellation was unfair to student voices.

“I feel like it’s limiting our freedom of speech. We have a right to do and say what we have to say, it's an important issue that we should be talking about.

“[The encampment] is not really disruptive.

“More people walk by and ask what's happening here. They'll get a sense of awareness of what's actually happening and the fact that they're staying overnight, just shows how important it is.

“They're willing to sacrifice their own sleep and their own, comfort of their homes to protest.”

Meanwhile AUT Law Student Society (AUTLSS) and a group of supporters had planned for AUT students to stand in solidarity at Hikuwai Plaza before the UoA Gaza student rally and march together.

Anja Shearer-Sonier, one of the organisers, said there was a need for students to voice their opinions.

“We're a group of students that had been talking individually about the things that have been going on internationally in regards to the encampments protesting Palestine being shut down.

“It was only this morning when I saw that Auckland University were organising this that we made a group chat.

“It's a necessary message because that's why people are students, they're there to inquire, learn and find their voices.”

“[Your voice] shouldn't be shut down and they should keep exercising them as much as they like because that's going to be an important place in the world for them.”

It was a surprise to many students with the Vice-Chancellor’s response released less than 24 hours before the UoA Gaza encampments were arranged.

“It's my understanding that it was the police that advised the university that it shouldn't go ahead for safety reasons,” she said.

“My sort of push back on that was the police are saying that they shouldn't go ahead because of the dangers that have been present in the encampments naturally, but those dangers have been the police.”

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