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‘Enhanced security’ expected at Kelowna UBCO graduation amidst protests

Both the UBCO graduation organizers and the People’s University for Gaza UBCO have made statements ahead of the June 6 and 7, convocation
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Those at the UBCO encampment have requested to maintain anonymity for fear of repercussions from the public and law enforcement. (Jacqueline Gelineau/Capital News)

UBC Okanagan graduation organizers and a Pro-Palestinian encampment on the campus are both preparing for a weekend of convocations.

On June 4, the People’s University for Gaza UBCO posted a guideline for graduating students who wish to protest at the convocation ceremony, which will be held on June 6 and 7.

The guideline called ‘Wanna be a badass at grad?’, encourages students to – among other things – bring a Palestinian flag on stage and refuse to shake the hand of UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon, or principal and deputy vice-chancellor Lesley Cormack.

The group has also invited graduating students, their families and friends to stop by the encampment to celebrate and “Remember the students in Palestine.”

In past years, the graduation ceremony was held in the courtyard but this year the ceremony has been moved to the gymnasium.

The encampment, comprised of students, members of the community and approximately 20 tents has been stationed on the UBCO campus courtyard for the past three and a half weeks.

In conjunction with an encampment on Vancouver’s UBC campus, the People’s University for Gaza UBCO is asking UBC to address five key demands.

READ MORE: Kelowna encampment calls on UBC to divest from ‘Palestinian genocide’

The protesters are specifically asking for divestment from companies that are physically located in Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and those that manufacture weapons sold to Israel.

UBC has responded to the claims by saying that the university’s “Endowment Fund does not directly own any stocks in the companies identified by the movement.”

Instead, UBC said capital is held in pooled funds and managed by external investment managers, “with the identified companies accounting for about 0.28 per cent of the Endowment Fund.”

READ MORE: UBC Okanagan vice-chancellor offers to meet with pro-Palestinian encampment

The protesters are also calling on UBC to participate in the global academic boycott of Israeli Universities, to condemn any acts of genocide in Gaza, reaffirm Palestinian’s right to resist and return and to keep police off campus.

UBC has responded to the students in a statement that is available at ubc.ca. The university said it will maintain “university neutrality” and will not be taking a position on the crisis but said, “We hope for a ceasefire and a lasting peaceful resolution in the Middle East.”

In a statement emailed to graduating students on June 4, UBCO stated graduation organizers are aware of the protesters on Kelowna’s campus and are “actively monitoring the situation and prioritizing the safety of all our community members, graduates and visitors to campus.”

The statement clarifies that as a precaution, “enhanced security” will be present in and around the gymnasium and other facilities on campus. It also states that staff and marshals will be on-site to “ensure a smooth graduation experience.”

Graduation organizers also said that bags would be checked and asked that graduates leave all personal belongings behind as they would not be permitted on the stage.

The email from the university’s graduation organizers comes after members of the encampment interrupted deputy vice chancellor Cormack while she was speaking at a public presentation on June 3, titled, Ashes to Action: Learning to live with wildfires.

In a written statement to Capital News, the People’s University for Gaza UBCO stated, “Security does not make students safer,” and said it expects the increased security at the graduation will create a “hostile environment for graduating students and their families.”

The protesters said “UBC must ultimately do everything in its power to make conditions safer for people in Rafah and meet the demands of the encampment,” and have said they will remain on campus for as long as it takes to have their demands met.

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Jacqueline Gelineau

About the Author: Jacqueline Gelineau

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