On December 10th, 2023, a Palestinian-origin student named Ibra launched a petition on change.org titled, “Urgent Appeal for Assistance for Members of UPEI Community Impacted by the Events in Gaza”.
The appeal served as a request for the UPEI President, Greg Keefe to provide support systems for Palestinian students at UPEI. The appeal also requests that a meeting be arranged on how such support systems could be enforced at UPEI to benefit the students facing mental health and financial problems while studying at UPEI.
Ibra posted this petition on social media, which led to hundreds of sign-ups per day, surpassing 1500 sign-ups in support of the petition by the UPEI students, alumni, and community.
In a separate conversation with The Cadre, Ibra shared his disappointment that the UPEI Administration was disappointing to provide the following support systems and hence a petition for a meeting had to be advocated for:
- An email condemning the genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli forces, very similar to an email sent on 25th February 2022 by the UPEI President titled, “Statement of support for Ukraine” which condemned the attacks by Russia on Ukraine.
- A mental health support platform at UPEI offered to students from troubled nations, such as Palestine to seek mental help caused by the loss of family members, and financial worries due to the war.
UPEI Student Union (SU) inadequate response?
In a recent Instagram post, Ibra shared that, “Regrettably, the UPEI Students’ Union (SU) response has been inadequate with delayed replies and unsatisfactory justifications.”
The Cadre asked about why Ibra felt that way to which Ibra explained that he had sent an email to the executives of the UPEI SU in an attempt to help him advocate for the concerns mentioned in the petition to the UPEI Administration and the President, Greg Keefe. He also emphasized why it is important by giving his personal example as he has lost over 20 relatives in Palestine due to this war, which led to mental health challenges.
However, the President of the UPEI SU, Camille Mady only responded to his email after 4 business days. Furthermore, Ibra was particularly disappointed by the President of UPEI SU for delaying her condolences after knowing about the tragic death of Ibra’s relatives.
In a separate conversation between The Cadre and UPEI SU President, the President explained that the response was delayed for a discussion in a committee meeting given the sensitivity of the topic. She also explained that there was no call to action for Ibra’s appeal apart from connecting him with President Keefe. However, Ibra was already in touch with President Keefe after communicating with the UPEI Administration.
In addition, the Muslim Association of UPEI had earlier led an advocacy of having a Palestinian flag at the W.A. Murphy Centre along with the other countries’ flags that are already placed. Ibra followed up with the UPEI SU executives on the same. The UPEI SU President explained how all the flags are being removed from the Murphy Centre and that a TV display would be used to highlight the accurate representation of students, including Palestine.
UPEI SU’s VP Academic & External’s Statement:
Noah Mannholland, VP Academic & External of UPEI SU explained to The Cadre, “The flags are a bit of a convolution. There are currently forty flag positions on the wall in the Murphy Student Centre, as that’s how many were installed at its conception. The initiative was lead by folx at the International Student Office and taken over by the Student Union once the ISO moved to Dalton Hall…
I do not know the number from back then, but as of today, UPEI is now home to students from over ninety different countries. The Student Union has attempted to expand the flags previously to this year, but we were told there is no more room to expand physical space.?
When this student asked us about flags (first in the summer of 2023), the concern was taken seriously. We first asked a second time whether they were expandable, and again we were told it was not possible. Periodically throughout the summer, we attempted to find workarounds, but no clear solution presented itself. When the current events in Palestine and Israel began to unfold, it was clear we would need to find a workaround as soon as possible,?particularly?because there is a flag representing Israel on the wall. In the meantime, we ordered a pair of Palestinian flags on October 30th, with one looking somewhat low quality, but with a faster shipping date. The intention was to get something up until the higher quality flag would arrive a week or two later. Once we had it, the intention was to replace the Canadian flag with the Palestinian flag.
At the same time, the idea came up to replace the physical flags with a screen cycling through the various countries of student origin. This idea was first brought up last year, but for one reason or another, hadn’t been implemented. Given the time it would take for the work order to replace the flag, a decision was made to instead remove all the flags in preparation for finally implementing that idea. The Executive Committee believed it to be the best solution available to us, as not only would there be room for Palestine’s flag (of which its student population rightly deserve to have displayed, for they are members of the Student Union), there would also be room for every other country whose students call UPEI home. In addition, the screen could also be used to display non-country flags as well, such as the Pride flag, and the Flag of the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.?
The flags are now down and the TV will be going up relatively soon. It will feature the flags of every country which houses even a single student at UPEI, rightfully including Palestine. We recognize it is substantially later than is right, but it is unfortunately the best we could do. It is unfortunate the timeline of this coincides with the emails sent by the student in question, but this change would have happened sooner or later. The crisis in Palestine sped up the process, but it was not the cause. Once the TV goes up, if a student does not see their flag represented, I invite them to send me an email immediately firstname.lastname@example.org?and we will get it rectified as soon as possible.”
UPEI SU President’s Apology:
The President of UPEI SU said to The Cadre, “We would like to apologize if the student believes we have failed him in any capacity. We did our best with what we were permitted to do within the framework of the organization. We would like to extend our condolences to this student and any student affected, either personally or through a loved one as a result of this situation. We will do our best to support them in any way we are capable.”
UPEI Administration’s Response
Ibra was somewhat satisfied with the swift response of the UPEI Administration in scheduling a meeting for 20th December 2023 with the President after receiving his email of appeal.
However, he said that the UPEI Administration had disappointed them when receiving the email called, “Best wishes for peace, joy, and happiness this holiday season.”, a few hours before their scheduled meeting time. The email was an attempt to acknowledge various wars happening around the world and paradoxically, also wishing a happy winter vacation to the students. While the email provided links for mental health support through programs such as UPEI Counselling Services or the Student Wellness Program, Ibra explained how the use of the term “Israel-Hamas” war was inappropriate. He explained how Israel is a well-equipped and abundantly funded army while Hamas is mostly comprising civilians who have already lost their loved ones, houses, and other basic elements of life. Ibra acknowledged that Hamas has certainly been involved in ‘textbook terrorism’, the statistics available by the Government sites such as Gaza’s Ministry of Health or the United Nations clearly indicate a disproportionate death toll which is evidence of Israel’s genocide attempt.
QR code to access resource to help a Palestinian student pay for his tuition!
“Urgent Appeal for Assistance for Members of UPEI Community Impacted by the Events in Gaza” petition.
By: Syed Imran