UH-Hilo students stage ‘walk-out’ over TMT

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The unrest atop Mauna Kea over construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope has sparked additional protests around the state, including one earlier this week at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

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The unrest atop Mauna Kea over construction of the $1.4 billion Thirty Meter Telescope has sparked additional protests around the state, including one earlier this week at the University of Hawaii at Hilo.

On Monday, dozens of students left their morning classes to participate in a “student walk-out,” which UH-Hilo graduate and event organizer Laakea Carvalho said was meant to send a clear message that, among other things, they do not approve of the university’s support for the telescope.

The University of Hawaii operates the mountain’s astronomy precinct and subleases the land to TMT for the project.

Carvalho estimated 80 students from UH-Hilo and Hawaii Community College participated in Monday’s protest.

“They took a day of solidarity,” he said. “A lot of them went up to Mauna Kea.”

In a letter of intent to university and community college faculty and staff, organizers said they were choosing to take a non-violent stand to “uphold the mission to indigenize academia at our institution of higher learning.”

“We, students, feel impelled to decipher publicly what is moral and what is immoral at a university level,” the letter reads. “We find that the UHH and HawCC students’ interests and values of higher education conflict with that of the institutionalized mental genocide of a culturally disconnected community/campus.”

In a message to students the following day, administrators addressed the impact on class attendance.

“The start of construction on the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea is prompting demonstration events on both our campus at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and on Mauna Kea,” Gail Makuakane-Lundin, UH-Hilo’s interim vice chancellor for student affairs, wrote. “These events are affecting class attendance of some of our students.”

Jerry Chang, UH-Hilo’s director of university relations, said the school has encouraged students who are experiencing academic implications as a result of their engagement in Mauna Kea-related events to communicate with their respective instructors to identify possible solutions.

“We have encouraged instructors to reach out to impacted students and to do the same,” he wrote in an email.

Asked about the size and frequency of student demonstrations, Chang said they have captured various sentiments on social, cultural, political and economic concerns.

“Since last December, all demonstrations at UH-Hilo have been peaceful, informative and constructive,” he wrote

In a message on the UH-Hilo website Sunday, Chancellor Don Straney said the events on Mauna Kea have greatly affected some members of the UH-Hilo family and announced the school would host a series of events aimed at helping everyone understand the varying perspectives and viewpoints.

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The first event, “E Nihi Kahele: Maintaining Kapu Aloha for Mauna Kea,” is from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight at UH-Hilo, UCB 100. It is hosted by the Office of the Chancellor-Hookahua Project and Kipuka Native Hawaiian Student Center. For more infomration, call 932-7418.

Email Chris D’Angelo at cdangelo@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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