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Not my Students’ Union

by Anna Huseby, BA International Relations and Development Studies

On January 31st, Director Valerie Amos sent an e-mail to all staff and students at SOAS notifying them that the vandalism in the University Buildings would be reported to the police. A few days later the Student Union responded with a statement to “defend the right to protest”. We need to get a few things straight here.

First of all, putting the word vandalism in quotation marks, as done in the Students’ Union e-mail, implies that you disagree with Amos’ description of the act. Well, spraying down someone else’s wall – no matter how noble the cause – is vandalism. As an international student paying high tuition fees to attend this university, it makes me frustrated to realise that some of my money will have to be spent on cleaning walls. I think the £4,000 wasted on this immature protest could have been spent on something more productive. I am disappointed that the Students’ Union tries to defend this act by saying that “you have to look at the context”.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of the issues the SU gets involved in, including the discussion about outsourced workers. But vandalism (no quotation marks here) is not the way to go. Vandalism should not be defended by the SU. We are part of a university where walk-outs, interrupted lectures, drum marches on campus and loud protests are part of our everyday life. We are lucky to find ourselves at an institution that allows this to a much larger degree than others. When the administration responds to a criminal act of vandalism with the threat of police involvement, it is NOT an attack on our right to protest or our freedom of speech. It is a rational and well founded response to an immature and unnecessary form of protest.

Finally, to the people involved and to the SU who defend them: I’d like to give you a small piece of advice. If you want your voice to be heard – be that in regards to outsourcing, Amos’ meetings with the Israeli Ambassador or any other political issue – intentionally making everyone your enemy will not get you anywhere. Moreover, many students do not want to be associated with this behaviour even though the causes might be worth fighting for. So congratulations on shrinking the population of troops. What exactly were you hoping to achieve with the graffiti? Were you hoping for Amos being forced to publicly apologise for meeting with the Israeli Ambassador? Were you hoping for her to step down as Director? What was the intention here? I am sorry to say that all you have done is damage the dialogue and communication between two conflicting parts on an important issue. That dialogue with the administration is your best tool if you want to make a change at SOAS. So my message to the Students’ Union is defending the cause does not mean that you should defend every action related to it. To the vandalisers: please bring a poster next time.

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