Letter Writer

Re: Police investigating intimidation of Israeli Apartheid Week activists

This is a letter I had sent to President of University Students' Council of Western Sophie Helpard last week. As I have yet to receive a response even after follow up I feel it is time for others to join this discussion.

On February 29 in the University Community Centre Atrium Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at UWO President, Randa Albayoumi, was encircled and shouted down by a group of as many as 17 men. This intimidation was not able to be broken up until campus police were called to the scene.

Despite the severity of this event the USC has remained silent. This silence has become even more damning as the USC has recently been prioritizing Women in Leadership, when it is clear they have no intention of supporting or protecting women in leadership of political movements on campus. I encourage everyone who has been watching these events unfold to start emailing Sophie Helpard (president@westernusc.ca) your thoughts on the matter, and as stated in the email - it's time to open the floodgates:

Hello Sophie, 

I am writing to you in regards to the recent events which took place at SPHR's Atrium Day and the subsequent responses which have been received from the student body. I am no longer an executive on SPHR but had been for several years, and with this latest incident I believe we have seen the least helpful response from the USC regarding the safety of SPHR executives and members. 

First of all, I would like to highlight that while this incident may be new to you, it has been a persistent problem at Western University. In the past SPHR executives (nearly all of which have been women) have been intimidated, stalked, filmed without our consent, physically harassed and even spit on. There have been varying levels of response from the USC regarding these issues over the years, but I assure you this year there has been a distinctive silence from the USC. 

Since the incident SPHR has received an outpouring of support from the student body. Executives from other clubs have offered their condolences, the Gazette and CHRW have given us space to discuss the issue at length and the SPHR Facebook page has been inundated with support from fellow students. However, everyone is asking the same question: what is going to come of this? Based on the response so far, it is my fear that we are going to have to tell them nothing. 

I understand you have been receiving messages from students in the Arab Student Association. As another group on campus who regularly experiences discrimination and racism they are very upset by the incident. However, your responses to them have been unsatisfactory. You have stated that the USC were in fact there to support SPHR on the day in question and they even called campus police, when in fact all of this was done at my request and would not have occurred had I not been present that day.

You have stated that Israel on Campus has "sent their regrets to members of SPHR," when in fact no one in SPHR has seen anything of the sort. You have also stated that the USC has no knowledge of the involvement of IOC members which conflicts with all witness testimony. I know in years past I have personally been dragged into the USC office to atone for much less than this. 

At this point I feel it is important to tell you that current SPHR executives are doing you a favour and are essentially holding back the flood gates for you. If this had occurred during a year when I was an executive I assure you that would not be the case. Students are very angry about what has taken place on their campus, in particular students whose marginalization and abuse on Western's campus has gone ignored for years now. To continue to allow this intimidation and harassment on campus with impunity would not be wise. 

What students are seeing from the outside is that no one has been punished for these actions, USC has not made any kind of formal condemnation of what took place, SPHR members are still unsafe on their campus while these people are able to walk free, the tactics of physically intimidating a female student have been reinforced, and no one (especially IOC) has even had to do as much as a public apology. 

If things continue like this, I doubt that SPHR will be able to hold back the floodgates for long Sophie.

— Marie Rioux, Political Science IV


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