Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

TAs relieved from positions, cannot be reappointed after expressing disagreement with University response to Israel-Hamas war

Lorianne Willett

Two Steve Hicks School of Social Work teaching assistants were relieved of their positions on Nov. 22 after they sent a Canvas message to their students expressing disapproval of the University’s response to the Israel-Hamas war on Nov. 16. The TAs’ appointment and pay will not be affected for the semester and they will not be reappointed as TAs next semester, according to a letter from Dean Allan Cole.

According to documents obtained by the Texan, the message said several students shared how the conflict affected them with Women and Madness TAs Callie Kennedy and Parham Daghighi. The message, which included a list of mental health resources, was intended to answer students’ requests for support.

“As your teaching assistants, we feel it is important to be clear that we do not support the University’s silence around the suffering many of our students, staff and faculty are experiencing on campus,” Kennedy and Daghighi wrote in their Canvas announcement. 

After the TAs sent the message, Lauren Gulbas, associate professor of social work and the course’s teacher, posted a message to Canvas on Nov. 22 saying the TAs acted inappropriately by expressing personal views. She also apologized for any harm the message may have caused. The same day, both TAs were removed from the official Canvas roster and their discussion sections were canceled.  

“In our role as educators and mentors, it is crucial that members of the teaching team are mindful of their official role and responsibilities in communicating with students versus their interest in sharing or speaking about their personal views on various issues unrelated to the course,” Gulbas said in the message.

According to a statement from the Palestine Solidarity Committee and UT’s chapter of the Fed Up Coalition, Kennedy and Daghighi worked with Gulbas prior to sending the message after a student in the class asked them to address mental health concerns regarding the war. The statement also called on the University to reinstate the TAs, commit to protecting pro-Palestinian speech and take steps to protect the wellbeing of Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students. 

“We urge the UT community to recommit to open dialogue and discussion to foster and uplift the principles of academic freedom,” the statement said. “We ask for collective efforts to address the repression that students expressing Palestinian solidarity face, which contributes to an atmosphere of violence for this student community, and Palestinian students in particular.” 

The University expressed support for the School of Social Work’s decision to remove Kennedy and Daghighi from their TA positions, a University spokesperson said in a statement. While the TAs suggested their announcement merely shared mental health resources related to course content, the University disagreed. 

“While acting in their role as employees (Kennedy and Daghighi) unprofessionally misused the official University classroom communication platform to send a personal political message to the students,” the University spokesperson said. 

An anonymous freshman taking the course said in an email that the TAs’ message made him feel safe and respected in the classroom. The first-year, who identifies as Arab, said he felt disappointed by Gulbas’ response and her references to the conflict portrayed the crisis in Gaza as a “controversial topic.”

“It is aggravating that pro-Palestinian speech is always being shut down and silenced,” the anonymous freshman said in the email. “I feel disappointed in the University as a whole for not showing more empathy for Arab, Muslim and Palestinian students because it feels as though we are not worthy of equal protection, freedom of speech or dignity.” 

Earlier in the semester, classical studies sophomore Alicia He said she and other students in the class felt stressed by the war, and some talked about it with the TAs. She said the message tried to amplify this open space.

“(The message) goes against how (the University is) supposed to hold an open space for all students, but I was confused by that because it seems like that’s what they were trying to do for those people affected by the conflict,” He said. “Whether you support it or don’t support it, but now we don’t have (the TAs) at all. We can’t go to them on Friday like we usually do.”

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About the Contributor
Lorianne Willett, Photo Editor
Lorianne is a Journalism and Global Sustainability junior from San Antonio, Texas. Currently, she is the Photo Editor. In her free time, she enjoys reading and playing tennis.