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UVic restricts campus access to ward off disruptions at convocation ceremonies

At Vancouver Island University, talks collapse between administration and protesters

The University of Victoria has established a zone on its campus barring the public and most of its students from several buildings and the surrounding grounds in a bid to ward off disruptions at its convocation ceremonies this week.

Four buildings — the Jamie Cassels Centre, First Peoples House, David Strong Building and the C Wing of the Clearihue Building — were marked off from public access as part of a “convocation zone.”

Signs near the restricted area indicated that only students registered for convocation, guests with tickets, staff and faculty “who require access” and students with proof of a booked appointment in the buildings would be allowed in the zone.

“No disruptions. No tresspassing [sic],” the sign read.

Symbols on the sign suggested that loud noises, and use of megaphones, drones and tenting are prohibited.

Campus security and police were on site for convocation.

A Times Colonist photographer on assignment was turned away from the building where ceremonies were taking place on Monday.

Asked about the increased security presence, a UVic spokesperson said in a statement that the university “implemented strategies to help minimize potential disruptions.”

The spokesperson did not say if increased security was related to the ongoing pro-Palestinian protest encampment that was established at UVic on May 1.

“Convocation is a very important milestone for our students,” the spokesperson said, adding that volunteers and staff will be on hand to support students and guests throughout the week.

On Monday, hundreds of students from the faculties of human and social development, business, education, and graduate studies received their degrees while wearing convocation robes.

There were no reports of disruptions.

But in the morning, protesters placed hand-sized Palestinian flags on a lawn outside the Jamie Cassels building in remembrance of those killed in Gaza.

Each of the 2,000 flags bore the name of a “murdered Palestinian child,” the encampment said in a statement on social media.

“These flags are a reminder to all those celebrating graduation at UVic today that our university is profiting off a genocide. That there are no universities left standing in Gaza,” it said.

During ceremonies on Monday, a handful of convocating students wore keffiyehs, a checkered scarf that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians. Following the ceremonies, many students and their families spilled out into the university quad near the protest encampment.

“While things may look a little different on campus, life is continuing at UVic and we expect convocation ceremonies and other events to proceed as planned,” said UVic provost Elizabeth Croft in an earlier statement to the Times Colonist.

At Vancouver Island University, convocation ceremonies will be held starting Wednesday at a gymnasium three stair flights away from a pro-Palestinian encampment on its Nanaimo campus.

The university attempted to negotiate a protest-free convocation week.

A meeting between VIU leadership and representatives of the pro-Palestinian encampment was cut short on Monday after protesters refused to provide assurances that convocation ceremonies would be free of disruption, said VIU provost Michael Quinn, vice-president Carolyn Russel, and CFO Emily Huner in a joint statement.

Ensuring that convocation celebrations can proceed without disruption is “central to VIU’s mandate of providing a quality educational experience,” they said.

An encampment spokesperson involved with the talks told the Times Colonist that the demand from VIU was unexpected.

Monday’s meeting was supposed to be a followup discussion about the disclosure of VIU’s investments, the spokesperson said.

Encampment representatives would have been more than happy to discuss convocation if VIU’s investments had been discussed first, the spokesperson said. “They refused to do so unless we provided them the assurance that disruptions were not going to happen.”

Talks broke down in less than 30 minutes.

A statement issued by the encampment accused VIU administrators of bad faith negotiations, but said the encampment is open to continued talks.

The encampment spokesperson declined to say whether disruptions are planned during the three days of VIU convocation ceremonies this week.

An estimated 1,000 students and their families will be visiting VIU’s Nanaimo campus starting Wednesday for four convocation ceremonies.

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