“The investigation was delayed longer than necessary to the point where the students missed an entire term. SOAS did not provide any support either internally nor provided sources for the students to seek help and advice.”
On October 9th 2023, the SOAS Palestine Society conducted a protest on the steps of SOAS, holding a banner to protest the University’s affiliation with Zionist groups. The disabled ramp was left unobstructed, and students were able to get in and out of the building without much disruption. A fire alarm then sounded and in response, security guards ordered the protesters off the steps. Within a minute they had moved, relocating to the green between Senate House and the Brunei Gallery. Security elected to close the main door, the only known entrance to most students, leaving hundreds of students to be herded through a singular door.
By October 13th, four students had been suspended, and warnings were issued to several members of the society. Some of the students who received warnings were not present at the protest nor involved in the organisation of it. One student was not even in the country at the time.
One of the suspended students there was Matthew, an international student who completed their MA at SOAS recently. While they knew that there had been tensions between student protestors and the administration at SOAS, they claimed the reaction of management was unprecedented.
Matthew relays that it is hard to keep seeing individuals who were personally involved in the case against them. Namely, Cornelius Potgieter, the head of security who made the initial complaint, as well as members of the Students’ Union.
Matthew states that the official reasons for their suspension were for violating health and safety policy and an agreement between the SU and management. The policy of disallowing protests on the steps was and remains unknown to many students. Matthew recalls protesting on the steps last academic year with no warning or repercussions.
During the initial speculation around who had pulled the fire alarm, the President of the Palestine Society received a warning, despite claims that they hadn’t been involved. These claims were confirmed by the investigation. Over the course of their suspension, Matthew claims that SOAS failed to update them every ten days – a requirement of SOAS disciplinary policy. The suspended students received sporadic communication from SOAS and what little communication they did receive did not detail any developments regarding their cases. Appeals were rejected and they were told that the presence of the students on campus would jeopardise the investigation.
The investigation was delayed to the extent that suspended students missed an entire term. SOAS did not provide any support either internally or allow the students access to sources to seek help and advice. They did not receive any help from the Students’ Union and Matthew believes that the SU failed to fight for the reinstatement of the students.
Matthew said the Co-President who did help push for support for the suspended students was Reem Walid, the Co-President for Democracy and Education. A student and staff petition calling for their reinstatement received over 300 signatures.
Another student impacted by the suspensions was Alex. Alex was not suspended but received what they suggest was a warning that falls into an unenforceable ‘grey area’. SOAS alleged that Alex was responsible for organising and leading the protest. The warnings issued were emphasised by SOAS as non-official, and would not appear on records, but insisted they had to be followed. Alex was unable to appeal the warning due to it being unofficial.
Adam Habib, SOAS Director, responded to the staff petition by stating that the students were a threat to the SOAS community, a claim that was corroborated by an anonymous professor. This came despite the multiple petitions signed by staff and students in support of the suspended alumni, many students relayed that they do not and have never felt unsafe on campus as a result of any protests and posited that most of the harassment they faced is from security. Similar to Matthew, Alex doesn’t feel like the Students’ Union helped at all. They said the SU functioned more like a band-aid designed to placate students and leave the root of the problem unsolved. They were told to follow the complaints process and were turned away.