A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit northern and western Syria and south central Türkiye on Feb. 6, claiming an estimated 50,000 lives, injuring an estimated 100,000, and causing tremendous damage in a region already struggling through the more than a decade-long Syrian civil war and subsequent refugee crisis. Millions of people have been displaced, humanitarian aid has been limited in Syria, and health-care services are scarce as several hospitals and clinics collapsed following the quake.
In light of the devastating earthquake and aftershocks, students and professors in the McGill community have rallied to support those affected.
On Feb. 15, an open letter calling on the university to issue an official statement of support for people in Türkiye and Syria was sent to Interim Principal and Vice-Chancellor Christopher Manfredi. Initiated by Aslihan Gürbüzel, assistant professor at the Institute of Islamic Studies, and Ipek Türeli, associate professor at the Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture, the letter urges the university to raise awareness within its community by sharing information about the main organizations trying to provide relief. The letter has since collected over 300 signatures from current students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
Türeli explained that she and Gürbüzel did not receive any response from the Principal about the initial letter, so a follow-up was sent on Feb. 22. They then received a response from Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies) Angela Campbell, explaining that the administration would not be issuing such a statement. Instead, Campbell wrote that the McGill Reporter would publish an article as it would have “further reach.”
Türeli explained that she was disappointed in the administration’s response in an email to The McGill Tribune.
“The university has sent many MROs of the nature we are seeking, […] for example, in the case of the war in Ukraine, both the Principal and the Provost sent out MROs,” Türeli wrote. “The McGill Reporter article that eventually came out on [Feb.] 15 celebrates what McGillians are doing to help, and it is not about the humanitarian disaster that is unfolding [….] Why is McGill not standing in solidarity with the Turkish and Syrian universities in the affected region?”
McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle informed the Tribune that following the Feb. 6 earthquake and aftershocks, the Office of the Dean of Students reached out to all Turkish and Syrian students to offer support and share resources that they can turn to in case they require help.
“The health and well-being of our community remain our top priority,” Mazerolle wrote. “The University continues to amplify the efforts made by members of our community to collect donations for survivors in the area by sharing them through our channels.”
Berfin Simsek, a Turkish U2 Arts student, explained that she felt “let down” and “uncared for” by McGill because she had expected a statement of solidarity addressing the situation.
“It makes me feel like people from my background, from where I’m from, are not worthy of their attention or time,” Simsek wrote in an email to the Tribune. “We have been struggling so much mentally and emotionally […] we needed to hear that they were there for us. We needed to feel like school was one thing we did not need to worry about. But they failed to do that.”
Gürbüzel explained that it would not be too late for McGill to issue a statement of solidarity as the crisis is still unfolding and it will take time for the region to fully recover. She thinks that an acknowledgment of support would mean a lot to affected students and members of the McGill community.
“I believe that a statement of support that emphasizes the long-term nature of the destruction and recovery processes is going to make a strong impact now as we observe the attention and solidarity to the Turkey-Syria earthquake slowly dwindle,” Gürbüzel wrote.