A spokesperson for Loughborough People & Planet sheds light on the recent challenges the pressure group have faced following their non-violent protests.
Loughborough University have responded to a non-violent chalk protest by fining a student who was involved in the protest a total of £430. Loughborough People & Planet, a student pressure group, had written messages in a water-soluble chalk spray on campus to protest the university’s ties to fossil fuel financiers Barclays. The group stated that they felt this step was necessary as the university had refused to speak with them.
The campaign to boycott Barclays was started in response to the bank’s investments in fossil fuel companies and projects, which totalled more than $85bn between 2016 and 2018, more than any other European bank. The university banked with Barclays, frequently invited them onto campus for recruitment opportunities and held an annual event in collaboration with the bank. Students hoped that by joining the boycott, their university could put pressure on Barclays to divest from fossil fuels. The students approached the university via email at the start of the year requesting an opportunity to talk about this campaign to cut these ties but this request was dismissed by the university and the group have since resorted to a non-violent direct action approach to get their voices heard.
Loughborough People & Planet started two years ago as a group that aimed to hold university management accountable on environmental and social issues. Last year the group campaigned for their university to divest from fossil fuels and they eventually won this campaign but were threatened with disciplinary action all year for non-violent protest actions such as chalk messages. The university’s intimidatory behaviour has continued this year and they have attempted to silence the group through threats of disciplinary action and now through financial sanctions.
A spokesperson for the group said:
“We are being ignored by the university who refuse to talk to us. When we take peaceful protest action we get fined. This is despite us not causing any lasting damage to the university property. It just seems like they want us to be quiet and go away”.
The group used a water-soluble chalk solution and say they took precautions to leave no permanent damage. According to the group all marks come out with enough water. The university mistook the substance for paint and before consulting the group called in external contractors to clean the messages, costing £430. The students have been blamed by the university for not making them aware that the messages were in chalk and are being charged for the cost of the external contractors that did not need to be hired.
Throughout their disciplinary hearing, the group have said they were told that the university were determined to ensure that the campus did not become a political space. Part of how the university intends to make this happen appears to be shutting down left wing views like this on campus as much as possible.
The university appears to be flouting established commitments by UK universities to ensure that peaceful protest is protected. Indeed, the guidance of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in relation to universities states that everyone has the right to free speech within the law and that universities should seek to widen public debates and never to narrow them. It also states that peaceful protest is a protected form of freedom of expression.
This behaviour of Loughborough University therefore sets a concerning precedent for all universities in the UK. Student activist groups have gained many important victories by challenging their universities through these kinds of protest actions. Almost half of universities have divested from fossil fuels, with many following radical direct action campaigns by students. This is under threat if students fear disciplinary actions resulting from these kinds of protests.
Direct action is also a commonly used and effective tactic that students can call upon to defend their rights. Students may be worried that, if this kind of disciplinary action by Loughborough University isn’t challenged, they will be left with few options to hold their universities to account without fear of being punished.
The group’s spokesperson added:
“The university have tried again and again to kill this campaign, not through discussion or debate, but through suppression and disciplinaries. It’s extremely concerning for everybody that the university is fining students for legitimate political protests but we won’t be going away anytime soon.”
The group’s actions have been somewhat vindicated as Loughborough University have now changed banks. The university have also been unable to invite Barclays onto campus and have had to cancel their annual collaboration event with the bank due to fears of student protest. However, the group are still waiting for the university to commit to continue boycotting Barclays until they have fully divested.
The group are calling on Loughborough University to repeal their decision and to not sanction the group. In the meantime, their campaign will continue and they have every intention of planning over the summer months for more peaceful protests in the next academic year. Indeed, the group have already responded with a rooftop banner drop.
The group spokesperson told us:
“We intend to win this campaign, no matter how long it takes and no matter how hard the university makes it”.
You can donate to the group’s fundraiser to help cover the fines or follow Loughborough People & Planet on twitter and facebook. Alternatively, you can contact Loughborough People & Planet at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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