On Wednesday, seven students from the Kambri Gaza solidarity encampment were asked to meet with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Grady Venville to discuss the encampment’s future. An ANU spokesperson told Woroni, “The meeting was to discuss how ANU students could continue to protest in a manner that ensures the health, safety and wellbeing of everyone at ANU.”

The meeting comes after three students were invited individually to speak with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the week prior, which the students declined to do. 

The Gaza solidarity encampment calls on the University to cut its military partnerships and academic ties with Israel. One of the seven students, Nick Reich, told Woroni, “The demands of the encampment are for the University to divest from all weapons companies that are [sic] arming Israel, and therefore are complicit in the current genocide in Gaza.” 

Almost three weeks into the protest, he says, “not one of these demands have been addressed publicly or privately [by the University].” 

He continues, “All we have heard from the University is threatening and intimidating invitations to meetings, [in] which they then threaten us with disciplinary actions.” The encampment now also demands the University to “revoke all disciplinary actions against those who are involved in the encampment.” 

In regards to the meeting, the ANU spokesperson told Woroni, “The University has communicated its expectations to ANU students…As per the University’s code of conduct and student discipline rule, ANU expects participants to follow these reasonable directions.” 

The University maintains that it “supports students’ right to protest but these activities must be safe and not cause unnecessary harm or damage to our campus or community.” 

The following is an email calling for students to meet with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor on Wednesday.

Fig: Email sent to students on Tuesday, 14th of May calling the seven students to meet with the Deputy Vice Chancellor. 

The email details the University’s intention to impose “restrictions” on the encampment to “address the safety and wellbeing of participants, as well as the University community as a whole” and “minimise any damage the encampment may be causing to University property.” 

The email ends reminding the student that, “Non-attendance at [the] meeting, and non-compliance with reasonable directions, may be referred for inquiry under the Discipline Rule.” 

While in an email sent after their meeting, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor maintains that “the University has not commenced a discipline process in respect to your conduct and participation at the encampment,” Woroni understands that the seven students were ordered to remove themselves and their belongings from the encampment by Friday, the 17th of May.  

Figure: Email sent to students on Thursday, 16th of May following students’ meeting with the Deputy Vice Chancellor. 

The email sent following the meeting explains that students at the encampment must do their part in “maintaining the good order or safety of the campus”, including, “allowing…students and members of the university community to do their legitimate activities, including learning or teaching on campus.” The Kambri encampments have not thus far caused the cancellation or disruption of any classes, nor has the University alleged any such disruptions. 

In both emails, Venville writes regarding “wellbeing and safety”, in particular as detailed in the second email, concerns arising from, “reports regarding the negative impact of the encampment on the wellbeing and safety of the broader University community.”

The seven students have been directed to leave the encampment “for the purposes of health and safety and good order of the campus.” While the student’s refusal to follow this direction could potentially be a breach of the student code of conduct, as suggested by the second email, neither email details explicit breaches of the student code of conduct in regards to their involvement at the encampment. 

In the course of the ten minute meeting, Nich Reich told Woroni, “There were no behaviours that they [University management] cited for us individually as breach of the code of conduct. The main things constituted their concerns about potential breaches of code of conduct, damage to university property and causing division and harm within the community.”

“The latter, I dispute quite thoroughly”, he continues, “because it goes against [the University’s] own freedom of speech charter which defends the right of those to express their opinion even if that opinion causes some people discomfort.” 

According to ANU policies, the duty to foster the wellbeing of students and staff, “does not extend to a duty to protect any person from feeling offended, shocked or insulted by the lawful speech of another.” 

It remains unclear why seven students specifically were asked to vacate from the encampment with respect to the University’s cited concerns. 

The seven students have also alleged that during the meeting, University management “pushed forth a pen and paper” for the students to disclose more names of those involved in the encampment. The students compared the situation to revealing “accomplices.”

The University’s attempt to remove the seven students from the encampment comes in the context of both the University of Melbourne (UniMelb) and Deakin University’s similar efforts to undermine the encampments on their respective campuses, with all three universities attracting significant criticism and counter-protests for their attempts.

ANUSA released a statement opposing, “the attempts to move students from ANU Gaza Solidarity Encampment.” The Union wrote, “Though ANUSA is not involved with the ANU Gaza Solidarity encampment, we maintain that students have a right to peaceful protest. This action from the ANU is unnecessary, unhelpful and potentially harmful to students who are peacefully protesting.”

Following the meeting on Wednesday, over a hundred ANU students and staff gathered at the encampment on Thursday, before marching to the Chancelry Building chanting, “ANU we know what side you’re on! Remember South Africa, remember Vietnam!”, in protest to the University’s decision. Among the protesters were members from the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). 

Secretary for the ACT division of NTEU, Lachlan Clohesy, told Woroni, “The NTEU’s position is that the University should critically review, disclose and divest from any ties that support the Israeli military effort in Gaza.” 

“It’s critically important to defend peaceful protests on University campuses,” he says, “[the NTEU] are strong defenders of academic freedom and freedom of speech on campus for both staff and students.”

In response to these protests, an ANU spokesperson told Woroni, “ANU supports the right to peaceful protest and free speech. The University’s policies guarantee freedom of speech, allowing all students and staff to express their views in accordance with Australian law and our codes of conduct.” 

They continue, “[Thursday’s] protest is another example of this and the University’s commitment to free speech. Staff and students were able to freely assemble, protest and make their voices heard.”

 Similar tensions between University management and staff have spurred at UniMelb. Around 200 classes have been disrupted in the University, following the students’ occupation of the Arts West building in protest, and renaming it “Mahmoud’s Hall”. The rename is in honour of Mahmoud Al Souq, a 25 year old Palestinian due to study at the University of Melbourne, but who was killed in Gaza last October. 

On Friday, students from the UniMelb encampment met with university management, however no resolution was reached. Students told The Guardian, that their University did not concede to their demands, detailing, “We have been explicitly told that they will not divest and cut ties with weapon manufacturers.”

Leaked footage shows UniMelb’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Micheal Wesley saying that, “if codes of conduct are contravened, people who are carrying out [the protests] will face disciplinary action and police action.” 

At Deakin University, the student encampment has been faced with two requests from the University to disband. Protestors, however, have yet to comply. 

Nick Reich attests the universities’ efforts to remove students and the encampments to “impatience” and “pressure”. He says, “Universities are under a lot of pressure because the demands are directed at them. More recently, students have shown that they are not going to pack these up without the University on some level accepting their demands.”

Reich also explains that removal of student encampments could have larger implications for student protests.  He says, “Even if there is a section of the student body who is outraged or opposed to, or upset by a particular protest and if they than put complaints to the University–if that is a way you can shut down protests, particularly one that is about a genocide–that’s a precedent which absolutely should not be set.”

“We have a right to protest on this campus, we have a right to express our speech, particularly on a University campus, where these sorts of discussions and arguments need to be had,” he says. 

Following the protest on Thursday, an ANU spokesperson told Woroni, The University is willing to continue to work with the encampment participants so that they can protest and exercise their free speech in ways that are appropriate for our campus and community.” 

They continue, “ANU has met with and written to some encampment participants outlining concerns about the encampment. The ANU is willing to continue to work with participants so they can continue to protest and exercise their free speech in ways that are appropriate for our campus and community.” 

Over the week, many Australian academics have signed an open letter which defends the rights of students to peacefully protest. The letter reads, “we are united in our support for free speech on university campuses, student and community safety, and the peaceful and historically significant, student-led encampments established at ten universities across Australia.” 

Students at the encampment remain firm on their demands, with updated claims that the ANU has over a million dollars invested in BAE systems, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman among others. Woroni understands that following the Deputy Vice-Chancellor’s orders to vacate the encampment by the end of Friday, many students have refused to do so. They maintain that the encampment will remain until the ANU meets their demands. 

Woroni’s coverage of the protest and counter-protests will continue in the coming weeks. 


As always, please access support if these events or their coverage are distressing to you. 

ANU Student Safety and Wellbeing Team 

ANUSA Student Assistance 

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