Official meetings begin between the University and pro-Palestinian student encampment

By Anoushka Mundey

After eleven days of the pro-Palestinian encampment, held by Durham University students on the Palace Green, official meetings between university officials and students have begun. On 20th May, the day before the meeting, the Encampment held a ‘pre-negotiations rally’ to demonstrate wider support for the camp’s demands. 

In the two-hour meeting with representatives of the University Executive Committee on 21st May, the student representatives outlined the encampment’s demands: Disinvest, Call, Advocate, and Safeguard. More details about these demands can be found here

A representative from the encampment told Palatinate, “We are now in a period of discussion and negotiation with the University and have mutually benefitted from regular and transparent communications from both sides.” 

One of the University representatives was Dr Shaid Mahmood, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion. His role entails working closely with “colleges, departments, divisions and research institutes, with the Durham SU and other student leaders, external stakeholders and partners”. 

“The University supports the right to lawful protest and freedom of speech where it is done in a safe and respectful way”

Dr Mahmood

Dr Mahmood was joined by Sam Dale, the Director of Student Support and Well-Being. Mr Dale spoke about his involvement, “I have been involved in talking to the camp representatives from the early stages, given my role in terms of student well-being and my experience of working and engaging with students.”

In an official statement, the University described the meeting as covering various topics. They specifically mentioned the support that Durham University provides to Palestinian students and how the university could contribute to rebuilding Palestinian higher education after the conflict.

“This was an opportunity to hear the students’ thinking about their demands and the weight they attach to them,” the statement said, “As part of the conversation, Dr Mahmood discussed the support we are offering to Palestinian students and how we might contribute to higher education being rebuilt following the conflict.”

Dr Mahmood stated, “The University supports the right to lawful protest and freedom of speech where it is done in a safe and respectful way, which we have outlined to the students at the encampment.”

Whilst the statement does not cover the demands of the encampment, it does emphasise the protection of “welfare, safety and security” for those in the camp. This statement came days before protesters were arrested or forcibly removed at other Oxford and Lancaster Universities due to sit-ins. 

Dr Mahmood continues, “We fully understand and respect that many of our students and staff feel appalled and concerned about the events in Gaza and Israel as the conflict continues. We appreciate they feel very strongly about expressing their views.”

Prior to the statement being released, over 200 Durham University staff members had signed an open letter to express solidarity with the students in the encampment.

The [University’s] statement does not cover the demands of the encampment

Dr Mahmood emphasised the University’s strength of feeling for the “events in Gaza and Israel”, having expressed “distress and mounting concern about the situation as detailed in our statement and communications.”

Concerning negotiations, Dr Mahmood stated, “Today, I sought to listen and understand more about the students’ perspectives and their position as they continue to protest. We appreciate the students’ work to ensure the welfare, safety, and security of those involved in the encampment are considered, as well as the Durham Students’ Union engagement on this. We welcome the opportunity for continued, open conversation with all our students.”

As part of these meetings, the University will meet with the encampment again on 30th May.

On the encampment’s Instagram (durhamstudents4pal) they wrote, “We see this [the meeting] as a positive first step, but obviously our end goal is the meeting of our demands, and we are prepared to remain in encampment until they are met. Free Palestine!” 

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