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UPDATED: Why won't AUTSA take a stance on Palestine? [Web Exclusive]

WEB EXCLUSIVE | NEWS

Written by Caeden Tipler (they/them) | @caedentipler | News Editor


Photography by Latamai Katoa (they/she) | @latamai_ | Contributing Photographer



UPDATE: As of 8 May, 2024, The Auckland University of Technology Student Association (AUTSA) has released a statement calling for a ceasefire and an end to the genocide in Gaza. Read their full statement here.


Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that AUTSA has made no statement on Palestine. A post was made in late 2023 condemning the violence.


“Disclose. Divest. We will not rest.” That’s what hundreds of students were chanting outside the University of Auckland (UoA) General Library on Wednesday evening. The University isn’t always transparent about its links with Israel, but we do know that it has connections with Rocketlab which has ties with the United States Military. Students want all UoA connections with the United States military and Israel disclosed and cut. 


Vice-Chancellor Dawn Freshwater didn’t support an encampment happening at the University, citing the danger seen at overseas protests. In the United States, the danger of protesting has largely been due to a disproportionate police response against students and faculty members, at the direct order of University leadership. 


Layan Khalil, Co-President of organising group UoA Justice for Palestine, told 95bFM about the tricky position they were in. If they went ahead with the encampment, they would be breaking the University's “Code of Conduct” according to Freshwater - risking the loss of their funding and hindering the ability for future actions. A rally went ahead in place of the overnight event. 


The rally was effective at gaining attention regardless. At its peak, 500 students were joining in or observing. Moving speeches mobilised an already charged crowd. Notably, UoA Arts faculty member Emmie Rākete spoke of the connection between Palestinians and Māori. Both peoples have been victims of - and leaders of resistance against - colonisation. Chants could be heard in English, Arabic, and Te Reo Māori. The event was picked up by mainstream media outlets NZ Herald, RNZ, and Newshub amongst others. Tāmaki Makaurau joined international lists of cities where students are leading protests for Palestine.


The Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) supported the rights of students to protest on Wednesday. Taking a separate stance from University management, AUSA maintained their support for the right of student groups to peacefully protest.


AUT Students Involvement


AUT students also attended the protest, largely in a convoy led by the Law Students Society (AUTLSS). Anja Shearer-Sonier, one of the organisers of the convoy, told Te Waha Nui there was a need for students to voice their opinions, “We’re a group of students that have been talking individually about the things that have been going on internationally in regards to the encampments protesting [for] Palestine being shut down.”


She added, “Your voice shouldn’t be shut down” and “it’s a necessary message because that’s why people are students; they’re there to inquire, learn and find their voice.”


Dean of Law at AUT Khylee Quince attended the protest on the University of Auckland campus with the convoy of law students. She was in full support of the organisers and any students wishing to attend. She had previously posted in support of the students being arrested at New York University, commenting, “Shout out in solidarity to the faculty members at NYU who have been arrested forming a human barricade to protect their students.”


After the UoA rally, Quince posted on Facebook, “Just before starting my 2 hour class for Legal System at South Campus, we made a snap decision to hikoi to UoA from our City campus to tautoko their Gaza rally this afternoon. Delivered my class, drove back to town - and joined our small crew of mostly law students to march over the road - with Anja [Shearer-Sonier] - bringing the flags and painted signs. We were so organised, we got to UoA and were the first ones there!”


Where is AUTSA?


Unlike AUSA, the AUT Students Association (AUTSA) has not commented on students' right to protest in support of Palestine. A source close to the AUTSA staff told Debate that a small portion of the group informally discussed what their stance on Wednesday’s protest should be, but came to no definite conclusion.


Notably, AUTSA has a very limited stance on Palestine at all. AUSA called for a ceasefire numerous times, but AUTSA only commented for an end to the violence, and only once. Of course, student associations shouldn’t have to have a stance on every issue, but they should have to comment on the ones dominating headlines.


Maybe AUTSA does owe solidarity to students in Gaza, where there is not a single university that hasn’t been reduced to rubble. Or maybe they owe solidarity to the students in the United States who have been arrested for peacefully protesting on their campuses. Regardless, AUTSA owes an explanation on their stance to the students they are supposedly the voice of.


AUSA proves student associations don’t have to tow the university line. AUTSA could call for a ceasefire, but at minimum, they should be vocally supporting AUT students' right to stand up and protest against injustice.


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