Students Occupy Senate Chambers: Pressure on York Admin to Meet Students’ Demands

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Amidst the labour strike by members of CUPE 3903, a student movement in support of the union has occupied York University’s Senate Chamber since Thursday afternoon during the Senate meeting.

The student-movement, called Students for CUPE 3903 has listed its demand on their Facebook page, demanding York administration to cancel all classes, tuition refund for the Winter semester, and to come back to negotiations with CUPE 3903, among other things.

“If York administration refuses to listen to its students, we have to make them listen, and that’s what the occupation is really about”, says Manisha, a member of the student-movement who wishes to be known only by their first name.

Physical altercation ensued

The attempts to gain access to the Senate meeting by members of Students for CUPE 3903 started Thursday afternoon, with reports of multiple physical altercations—some with video footage currently spreading around the internet—between students and York security personnel prior to the occupation.

Some physical altercations ensued when members of the community repeatedly asked to gain entrance before things got physical.

One member of the student-movement suffered injuries as a security personnel grabbed the back of his neck to keep him out of the Senate chamber.

“In order to keep me outside, he [security personnel] was grabbing my neck using it as a grip”, says Pourya, who also wishes to be known only by their first name. “I don’t think that’s right.”

“Fifteen minutes later, I started to feel pain in my neck and jaw”, continues Pourya.

Pourya also alleges that Rhonda Lenton, President of York University, witnessed the incident.

“Rhonda Lenton, as soon as this happened used the other exit door with a few security [personnel] and left”, recalls Pourya.

“No reaction, nothing. It was awful.”

According to ‘The Senate of York University Rules, Procedures and Guidelines’ however, meetings are open to the public so long as space is available.

“Meetings of Senate are open to members of the University community, subject to the availability of space.”

However, Vandoo News has formerly requested access to the meetings but was told that the meeting “was for senators only.”

Administration’s response to demands

“Classes will continue… we are not prepared to take steps to cancel all classes, which is one of the students’ demands”, reads a statement by York administration.

“Staying open and running those classes that could run has provided our students with the ability to make choices based on their own personal circumstances.”

York has also noted that it is ready to continue bargaining with CUPE 3903 if they choose to “table proposals that create an achievable framework for a settlement to end the strike.”

Manisha however, notes that these are simply PR tactics employed by the administration.

“The York administration loves bargaining online on social media and through the media itself. However, they’ve failed in engaging in basic democratic procedure which is actually consulting your community.”

Occupy? Sit-in?

The terminology of the action by Students for CUPE 3903 upon entering and holding up inside the Senate Chambers has been largely contested by both sides, with administration calling it a ‘sit-in’.

“The media is calling it a sit-in repeatedly which isn’t correct. A sit-in implies that we are just in the space and anyone can come in and out”, says Manisha.

“We’re here as active community members exercising democratic control over our campus.”

What now

It is unclear what the outcome would be, as members of Students for CUPE 3903 remain steadfast in their desire to stay for as long as it takes until their demands are met. Meanwhile, York administration has also expressed its desire to “provide support for our students in the Senate Chamber.”

“People here are in high spirit” notes Manisha. “We are willing to stay here until those demands are met.”

Follow Vandoo News as this is a developing story.