Uni of York vice-chancellor ensures ‘campus can be a safe space’ amid Israel and Gaza situation

‘York is, and must, remain a community of compassion and mutual respect’


Last week, University of York vice-chancellor, Charlie Jeffery, sent out an email regarding the current crisis in Israel and Gaza.

Charlie wrote that the students, staff and alumni to state how “York is, and must, remain a community of compassion and mutual respect”.

In the email, he also highlighted the support on offer, saying how the “campus can be a safe space for discussion of the conflict” and that the uni unites “in rejecting any forms of racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, abuse, intimidation and harassment.”

Speaking about his exchanges with staff and students from Palestine and Israel, the Chancellor said: “I am writing today to staff, students and alumni about the current crisis in Israel and Gaza.

“I have not done so till now because I wanted first to make sure that I or my colleagues had had the opportunity to engage with those most directly affected by the conflict: Staff and students from Palestine and Israel, and student societies which are closely connected through family, friendship or community ties to Palestine and Israel. I have also heard from a wide range of others in the university in correspondence and in meetings.

“From all these exchanges, I have seen – and want to reinforce in this message – a sense of deep, shared horror at the appalling loss of life, especially among civilians, that we are hearing about, and of deep sorrow for families and communities torn apart by conflict. I also know that there is unlikely to be any quick resolution and that there will be difficult conversations ahead as we hear different views on the conflict.”

Speaking about York as a safe space to discuss the situtation, he carried on by adding “But there is one point of absolute unity in the exchanges I have had: While we recognise the strength of feelings different members of our community have, and the different experiences that underlie them, we unite in rejecting any forms of racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, abuse, intimidation and harassment.

York is, and must, remain a community of compassion and mutual respect. I have heard of a small number of instances affecting students from different backgrounds where these standards have not been met. To be clear: That is just not acceptable.”

He also made a note of the support available at the university as he said: “I know many of you are worried and fearful, not only about the immediate situation but also the uncertain future, especially those of you in direct contact with affected friends and loved ones.

“So what I have focused on in engaging with those who are most directly affected by the conflict – and what I want to reiterate now – is the support we can offer, and how our campus can be a safe space for discussion of the conflict.”

Reinforcing this point, he said: “We have directly contacted students and staff that we know have links to the region and we have specific information and support on our staff and student webpages that will continue to be updated. We are reminding everyone that they can report any concerns to support anyone who experiences hostility or prejudice.

“I have heard some concerns that these reporting mechanisms are not trusted. Let me be clear: All issues reported will be considered carefully and in strict confidence. But for those who have those concerns I have asked my colleague, Pro Vice Chancellor Kiran Trehan, who is the University’s lead on equality, diversity and inclusion, to act as a point of contact.

“Separately I have asked the dean of social sciences, Karen Rowlingson, to work with colleagues in the faculty to advise on ways in which respectful and reasoned debate can be had on a conflict which has deep roots and is raw and emotive. Universities are and must, especially at moments like this, be places in which difficult issues can be discussed openly, in good faith and mutual respect. York must live up to that ideal.”

He concluding by saying “I will remain in regular dialogue with student societies, academic departments and our SUs and Colleges to understand concerns and how best to respond to them. What is clear to me is how many of you are expressing your concerns on behalf of others. I’d like to thank you for all the care that you continue to show to each other.”

Students can report any concerns here.

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