UVA professor cancels class to support BDS as referendum passes

Roughly 100 people joined ‘Yes on Divest Walkout’ that the UVA Apartheid Divest Coalition organized

DAXIA ROJAS/AFP via Getty Images

The University of Virginia campus is seen on October 12, 2022 in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A University of Virginia art history professor canceled her class on Monday in solidarity with a  walkout on campus held two days before students voted overwhelmingly to call on the school to divest from companies with ties to Israel.

“I’m writing to let you know that I am canceling class today in solidarity with the ‘Yes on Divest Walkout’ that the UVA Apartheid Divest Coalition organized,” Christa Robbins, an associate professor of art history at UVA, wrote in an email to students, a copy of which was obtained by Jewish Insider

“I realize this issue is polarizing right now, so I want to take a moment to let you know why I made this choice…My decision to cancel class comes from my own sympathies with the people of Palestine and out of a desire to see them live freely,” Robbins wrote. 

Robbins did not immediately respond to JI’s request for comment. 

Roughly 100 people gathered on the steps of the school’s Rotunda and marched about a half-mile across the Charlottesville campus to the Observatory Hill Dining Room during Monday’s walkout, the Daily Progress, a local paper, reported

Ella Kotok, a freshman sociology major, told JI that the walkout and other events since Oct. 7 “have heightened tensions for Jewish students and currently there is no independent established pro-Israel organization on campus.”

“Each professor should be allowed to talk about what they believe in, but students paying tuition shouldn’t be deprived of their education because the teacher wants to espouse their political beliefs,” Kotok continued. “It’s just not fair… it makes Jewish students uncomfortable and you’re robbing students of their time without opening up discourse about it in class.” 

UVA’s provost, Ian Baucom, sent a message to the school’s academic deans last week asking them to remind faculty that, “while students have a right to protest, UVA will continue with regular academic operations during this week’s walkout and that course instruction was expected to continue.”

A spokesperson for UVA told JI that “in response to the report of a class having been canceled in contravention of that expectation, the Provost’s office and School Dean will address this matter with the faculty member in question and undertake disciplinary measures if the instructor is found to have violated University policy.” 

Wednesday’s vote — co-sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace — was the only referendum in this year’s elections. The UVA Apartheid Divest Referendum passed by a 68%-32% vote, with 7,993 students of the campus’ total 17,294 undergraduate population casting ballots. The resolution demands that the university audit its investment portfolio to identify any connections to companies engaging in or profiting from what the sponsors call “the State of Israel’s apartheid regime and acute violence against Palestinians.”Prior to Oct. 7, BDS resolutions on college campuses had almost entirely disappeared. But student votes on the issue have shot back up recently, with several passing in February at universities including UCLA, where both the Graduate Student Association and Undergraduate Students Association Council voted to support BDS resolutions, and San Diego State University. On Sunday, Tufts University will vote on four full-text resolutions proposed by the Coalition for Palestinian Liberation at Tufts.

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