Content warning: This article discusses recent and ongoing violence in Israel and Gaza and contains mentions of genocide and anti-Palestinian racism.

Since October 7 attacks on Israel by the militant group Hamas, which killed approximately 1,200 people, strikes by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have killed more than 11,300 Palestinians in Gaza. 

U of T student unions, student groups, and departments have since released statements in response to the ongoing violence, some of which have received pushback from other parts of the U of T community. Many student groups discussed the importance of academic freedom and free speech around Israel and Palestine, and some students have called on the university to release clear guidelines on academic freedom and speech around Palestine.

In face of overwhelming injustice, neutrality is not an option
UTSC student groups and non-U of T groups on MSA’s Instagram account

U of T’s statements and pushback 

On October 9, Vice-President International Joseph Wong released a statement to the university community, expressing sadness over the attack on Israeli civilians, on “the outbreak of war [the previous] weekend,” and offering condolences to “all those suffering in Israel and Palestine.”

On October 13, someone released an open letter — since signed by over 2,000 U of T students, faculty, staff, librarians, student associations, and alumni — expressing their “shock and disappointment” in response to Wong’s statement. The letter raised multiple concerns with Wong’s statement: that it only mentions the attacks on Israeli citizens, not the IDF’s subsequent strikes on Gaza, and that it fails to acknowledge the harsh conditions that Israel has imposed on Palestinians for years.

The letter called on the university to release a new statement reaffirming academic freedom, acknowledging long-standing violence against Palestinians, and creating a presidential, provostial, and vice-presidential working group to inform the university’s response to anti-Palestinian racism. 

While the letter called on the university to publicly respond by October 19, the university has yet to provide a public response specifically addressing the letter as of November 26. However, U of T President Meric Gertler released a statement on October 18 discussing universities’ responsibility to protect community members’ right to academic freedom, noting that this right makes the university “uniquely able to host constructive debate and foster deeper understanding of complex issues.” Gertler also noted the university community’s obligation to share its expertise “to inform public discourse and deepen understanding.” 

Calling on the university to take a stance

On October 15, 17 UTSC student groups and non-U of T groups, released a joint statement, posted on the Muslim Student Association (MSA) UTSC’s Instagram account, that recognized the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and condemned the Israeli government’s actions against Palestine.

“In face of overwhelming injustice, neutrality is not an option,” the statement reads.

In an interview with The Varsity, spokespeople from the International Development Studies Student Association (IDSSA) UTSC — one of the groups who signed the statement posted by the MSA — said that they feel the university should take a stronger stance as it claims to advocate for decolonization, equity, and diversity.

On November 5, a number of student climate justice groups — including Climate Justice UofT, VUSAC Sustainability Commission, Dig In! Campus Agriculture, Regenesis UTSG, and SMASH UofT — released a joint statement that condemned the Israeli government’s siege on Gaza and stood in solidarity with Palestinians.

In an email to The Varsity, Climate Justice UofT wrote, “As long as [the university] does not come out and say that Israel is perpetrating a genocide, it leaves room for the experiences of Palestinian students, and the statements of those in solidarity with them, to be questioned.”

Genocide, as defined under the 1948 United Nations (UN) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, constitutes actions such as killing or causing mental harm “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Some UN experts and Palestinian human rights organizations have accused the Israeli government of committing genocide against Palestinians. As of November 14, experts on international law interviewed by Time magazine remained split on whether the Israeli government’s actions could be characterized in a court of international law as genocide. 

Academic freedom

The spokespeople from the IDSSA UTSC called on the administration to develop clear guidelines that indicate what community members can say without fear of academic suspension or probation. 

U of T’s 1992 Statement on Freedom of Speech dictates that the university “must allow the fullest range of debate” while allowing it to limit speech that interferes with authorized university business or other lawful speech. However, the statement does not provide specifics about what allowed or unallowed speech looks like. 

The IDSSA UTSC spokespeople explained that many U of T community members, especially untenured professors, feel scared to speak up because of potential repercussions for their careers. Some individuals in Canada and the US have lost their jobs after posting statements related to Palestine following October 7, although the exact number remains unknown. 

The university’s agreement with the U of T Faculty Administration obligates the university to uphold academic freedom: “the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn… the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University of Toronto and society at large.”

The Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) statement, released on October 16, talked about “the destruction of academic freedom globally.” It also noted U of T’s “history of silencing Palestinian discourse on campus.”

In the statement, the ASSU mentioned a 2020 controversy in which U of T allegedly rescinded a job offer from human rights lawyer Valentina Azarova after a university donor complained about Azarova’s writings on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories. 

In an email to The Varsity, a spokesperson for Dig In! Campus Agriculture wrote, “So long as U of T values profit and power over the safety of its community, or even the simple pursuit of truth and justice, which U of T seems to be so in favor of on a performative level, we don’t believe academic freedom will really exist on campus.” 

ASSU President Anusha Madhusudanan wrote in an email to The Varsity that the university should “ensure the safety of students and faculty who are dealing with harassment… by acknowledging it and taking appropriate action to eradicate such threats.” 

In a statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson highlighted a portion of Gertler’s October 18 statement, where he wrote, “Uncomfortable, even upsetting positions will be expressed by members of our community. It is our collective duty to ensure that such perspectives, so long as they are lawful, continue to be heard.”

The U of T spokesperson also highlighted the university’s Anti-Islamaphobia Working Group, so named in 2019–2020, which presents advice to institutional leaders. The university’s website states that U of T officials will support the working group’s efforts to address Islamaphobia “with a key focus on anti-Arab racism, anti-Palestinian discrimination, and related forms of racism and faith-based discrimination.”

SCSU, UTSU statements

On October 16, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) released a statement that expressed its “condolences to the Palestinian community and all innocent Israeli lives lost in recent and decades-long events.” 

SCSU Vice-President Academics and University Affairs Afshana Miah said in an interview with The Varsity that, as a student union that advocates for decolonization, equity, and anti-oppression, she saw it as the SCSU’s ethical responsibility to release a statement.

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) released a statement on October 28, expressing “unwavering support for all students who may be facing hate and discrimination on our campus or elsewhere.”

The union announced that “a statement alone is not enough,” and stated that it will be donating $10,000 to humanitarian relief efforts providing food, water, and medical supplies to Gaza.

If you or someone you know has experienced harassment or discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship and/or creed at U of T, report the incident to the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity office:

You can report incidents of anti-Muslim racism through the National Council of Canadian Muslims’ Hate Crime Reporting form at, and antisemitic incidents at U of T to Hillel U of T at

If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call: 

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566 
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454 
  • Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600 
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200 
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030

If you or someone you know has experienced anti-Muslim racism or is in distress, you can contact:

If you or someone you know has experienced antisemitism or is in distress, you can contact:

  • Hillel Ontario at [email protected]
  • Chai Lifeline Canada’s Crisis Intervention Team at 1 (800) 556-6238 or [email protected]
  • Jewish Family and Child Services of Greater Toronto at 416 638-7800 x 6234

The Hamilton Jewish Family Services at [email protected]