Student protests - USI Rector's opinion


Institutional Communication Service

13 May 2024

USI Rector, Luisa Lambertini, has given some interviews about the student protests, ongoing in Switzerland and internationally, against the war in Gaza. We offer you the insights that appeared in Corriere del Ticino and during the programme 60 minutes aired on RSI.

"Among my priorities as Rector is to create and maintain a respectful and open environment that fosters dialogue and understanding between all members of our academic community, which is very international with over 110 countries represented. At the same time, I can understand students giving a vibrant and meaningful response to events in the world around them. This response reflects a growing awareness and civic engagement among university students. For now, these rallies, which began in the United States, in Switzerland have mainly focused on large universities, where students have mobilised to express solidarity, demand a change in university cooperation policies, and call for an academic boycott. In parallel contexts, such as the response to the crisis in Ukraine, some relationships were severed by universities, at least with institutions that supported the aggression. Other academic collaborations, those that favoured dialogue and neutrality and with institutions that did not support the invasion, were able to continue by guaranteeing academic and cultural exchanges, which take on even greater importance in times of conflict. USI, like many other Swiss universities, is a member of the "Scholars at Risk" network and has welcomed several scholars who have found in our university a place to continue their research and teaching.
Returning to the pro-Gaza protests, while I find everything that stimulates debate and discussion within the academic communities regarding human rights very beneficial, I am convinced that we must try not to polarise stances too much. There may be moments of tension, but criticism must always be aimed at fostering reflection. In my view, universities must remain vital spaces for dialogue on complex global issues, where everyone can express themselves and deepen their understanding. No USI member should feel uncomfortable coming to the university. Student protests must find a voice: positions must be allowed to be expressed, if formulated within the bounds of respect. Requests for information on cooperation agreements with Israeli universities are legitimate, but requests to terminate such agreements without explanation are not. We, as USI, have from the very beginning condemned any action contrary to international humanitarian law and have called for the lives of all civilian populations involved to be respected. I would therefore like to make the university feel close to us on these important issues and to keep a dialogue open in order to avoid escalation, because I believe that my greatest defeat in this context would be to resort to violence, to see the intervention of the police in our spaces because of riots. USI's response must be one of dialogue to avoid a setback for all parties involved, which would significantly undermine our goals of fostering a community based on dialogue and mutual understanding".

Below is also the video of the interview with the Rector, who spoke during the programme 60 minutes, hosted by Reto Ceschi and aired on RSI La1. (Italian only)

Dall'America all'Europa, la mobilitazione nelle università contro Israele e per la causa palestinese - 60 minuti, RSI