On January 29, Tkarónto Students in Solidarity with Palestine (TSSP) — a U of T student-led advocacy group — organized a tri-campus walkout that drew hundreds of students. The same day, the group held a town hall for students to “learn more about Palestinian organizing on campus, share experiences, and get involved.” 

The walkout

With over 100 people in attendance at UTSG, the TSSP led a march from Sidney Smith Hall to Simcoe Hall, reiterating its demands for U of T to end its “complicity with the ongoing genocide in Gaza.” The group has called on the university to cut ties with Israeli institutions and stop engaging with companies and banks, such as Starbucks and the Royal Bank of Canada, that have limited their employees’ speech related to Palestine or funded companies with connections to the Israeli military.

Students gathered on the steps of Sidney Smith Hall at 2:00 pm for the walkout. Members of the TSSP and the audience chanted “Free Palestine.” Organizers also carried a sign that read, “U of T students stand with Palestine.” 

According to Sara Rasikh, a first-year masters student studying social justice education at the Ontario Institute of Education (OISE) and one of the walkout organizers, the TSSP organized the walkout to “[disrupt] business as usual on campus” and “bring forward the collective disdain that U of T students have with U of T’s complicity.” 

In an interview with The Varsity, first-year Munk One student Jaelin Caverhill explained that she participated in the walkout because “the cause is really important, and it’s very evident that this is a genocide at this point.”

The South African government brought a case to the International Court of Justice on December 29, accusing the Israeli government of committing genocide against Palestinians. The International Court of Justice has agreed to hear the case and, on January 26, approved six orders against Israel requiring the country to take all possible measures to protect Palestinian civilians. The Israeli government has refused to implement them and maintains that it is acting in self defence.

Around 2:30 pm, TSSP organizers began walking toward Simcoe Hall.

The town hall

From 6:00–9:00 pm that evening in University College’s Student Commons, TSSP also organized a town hall for students, focused on discussing concrete means to support Palestine, including through student politics and divestment.

Fourth-year international relations and philosophy student Aviral Dhamija spoke during the event. He told the crowd that activists on campus should focus on behind-the-scenes work to promote Palestinian activism, similar to actions student leaders took in the 1980s and 1990s against South African apartheid.

“We just have morality on our side, and morality is not enough,” he said to the crowd. “We divested from South Africa. I’m gonna keep saying this again and again: we have done this before, and we can do this again.” 

He said that the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union’s Divestment Caucus, founded in 2022, showed an example of effective organizing, because it went beyond “platitudes” and created a structure for students to discuss divestment. 

Third-year political science and sociology student Mariam El-Rayes, a member of the TSSP’s steering committee who is running for the U of T governing council, pledged to focus on Palestinian activism if elected, among other topics.

She focused her speech on the importance of students having power in governance spaces. “Access to admin and being privy to important information is necessary for us to properly strategize. We should know how decisions are being made and how those decisions get put on the table in the first place,” El-Rayes told the crowd.

Fatima Sohail, the UTSU’s vice-president equity, also attended the event. She told The Varsity that, in the past year, focusing on Palestine has remained one of her many focuses. “[In] my role, it was really important for me to focus on it, but of course, I focus on other equity issues on campus as well,” she said.

Some attendees came to the event with the purpose of collective organization. Clara Ruplinger, a first-year student in her masters of teaching at the OISE, told the crowd that pro-Palestine organizing should model itself off of the Black Lives Matter movement and focus on building community and “prioritize love to each other.”

“The fact that we have a room this full of this many supporters for Palestine is indicative of the progress that we have made,” she said.

U of T declined The Varsity’s request for comment.