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University will not take a 'position or stance' on Israel-Gaza conflict, says VC Evelyn Welch

Following the launch of a pro-Palestine encampment, the University of Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor Evelyn Welch emailed students calling for 'mutual respect, support and compassion.'

By Cara Hene, Digital Music Editor

In response to the growing pro-Palestine encampment, VC Evelyn Welch emailed students today saying that the university will not 'adopt an institutional position in relation to the ongoing conflict.'

The encampment began on May 1 with seven activists and has since grown in number with numerous tents spanning the grassy area opposite the Indoor Sport Centre.

In an email to all current Bristol students, Welch stressed that 'whatever our individual views, it is more important than ever that we uphold our shared values of mutual respect, support, and compassion.'

Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol / University of Bristol

'Every member of our community should feel confident and secure on our campuses.'

She added: 'We encourage and support everyone’s right to express themselves freely and engage in lawful, peaceful protest in line with our agreed protocols.'

These protocols outline that on-campus protests will face consequences if participants 'become involved in promoting, justifying, inciting (encouraging) or committing violence, damaging property, or affecting the safety of others' and categorically prohibit hate speech and violence.'

She added: 'We will not tolerate any form of racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, discrimination, incitement, bullying or harassment at our University. We will respond robustly if this occurs.'

Welch also addressed demands for the university to divest from companies linked to supplying Israel with arms. 

Demand for divestment has been one of the primary motivations behind the current encampment. It was also a key demand in the occupations of the Wills Memorial BuildingVictoria Rooms and 5 Tyndall Avenue, as well as the protests at Senate House on April 19.

Regarding partnerships with defence companies, Welch said, 'we want to be open about whom we work with and why.'

As a result, the university will welcome students’ views through their representatives in the upcoming Senate on June 17. There are six student members of the Senate, a list of which can be found here.

Welch also rejected calls for the university to 'adopt an institutional position' on the conflict in the Middle East, arguing 'our principles of free expression and academic freedom require us to remain impartial as an institution.'

'Taking a position or stance on this, or any other conflict, can inhibit members of our community who want to speak their mind. I know this is difficult, and at times uncomfortable, especially when there are strong feelings, hopes and expectations about geopolitical issues.'

'I have to stress that as a University our role is to enable staff and students to express themselves freely, not to become an advocate for one view or another.'

Featured image: The encampment today, May 8 / Cara Hene

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