British University Occupy Movement in Full Force For Free Education!

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of traveling and meetings for the Justice4Sanaz campaign.

I convalesced
in Oxford after coming down with a nasty flu for more than a week. Thanks to my host, Manishta Sunnia for helping me get better. Afterwards, I headed to London to give a talk at SOAS followed by attending a fundraiser to support the campaign. Despite the promising FB invite numbers, I can’t say that either event was a success. Adding to this, the work I put in to helping the 5 London student unions supporting this campaign in liaising together for the fundraiser accomplished absolutely zilch! On the FB group page for J4S, I commented:

“Despite messaging (both e-mail and FB) student unions that have passed motions with this campaign, those student unions did very little to contribute to the SOAS fundraiser. It was shocking to come to the SOAS SU to see that there was no advertisement about the fundraiser. 24 hours before the fundraiser began, I had to put up a hastily made poster to let people know about it. I was expecting that collectively all the London-based SUs would help with advertising the event, or even selecting a point person for me to liaise with about PR and other matters. Then Food Not Bombs – London failed to show up, because the individuals organising from SOAS did not to follow up with them. Therefore, I had nothing to fundraise with.

Adding insult to injury, someone from the SOAS SU told me that it wasn’t their problem that my campaign is “very small” and that I should have organised all advertisement concerning the fundraiser on my own. Hmm…if this particular individual had seen the emails that I sent to their colleague, I was LIAISING all the time with the various London-based student unions, even while ILL and HOMELESS. I certainly cannot be held responsible for the utter lack of attention and indolence that all the London-based student unions showed last Thursday. The final straw was when a rep from the SOAS SU suggested that I walk around with a bucket and ask people for money. I found it deeply humiliating that essentially this person was asking me to politely beg for money. Anyone who has been homeless for a period of time would find this sort of behaviour extremely degrading and horrid. I did not come all this way from Leeds to be treated in such a disgusting and gross manner.”

This leads me to wonder about the relevancy of getting student unions to pass motions when the ones that are in solidarity with this campaign (including the NUS BSC) have done absolutely nothing to help further this campaign or support the events that I have done in the past 8 months. It’s a nice boost for the campaign when I student union decides to support J4S, but when I ask for that tangible support-fundraisers, etc., nothing seems to get off the ground. Paper support is bogus support. Actually, I feel that paper solidarity is no solidarity. It is completely worthless.

I keep rehashing that 8 student unions support this campaign (King’s College London, Royal Holloway, University of Bradford, University of Bristol, University of Birmingham, SOAS, Kingston University, and University of the Arts London). Apart from giving the J4S campaign a bit of publicity, this “solidarity” has amounted to very little. None of the SU have contacted me and volunteered ideas or ways to help support my campaign. That is the simplest thing any SU could do at this time, but even this small gesture seems to escape them. And when I decide to initiate this conversation or work with a particular SU to get something off the ground, there is so much resistance. I liken it to pushing glue uphill.”

The experiences I’ve had with student unions in the past year, with SOAS being the tipping point, have lead to supporters on the J4S FB group page to encourage me to instead liaise with unions (Unite, UNISON, etc). With the suggestions of Charlotte Bence, Chair of the London and Eastern Region Young Members’ Committee of Unite, in the next weeks I will be devoting my time towards getting union support for this campaign.

However, not everything was lost during my London sojourn. I may not have been able to raise enough money to put in a fresh application to the Home Office, but I did take part in the Occupy LSE- The Free University of London occupation, that began on the 15th March. On the 18-19th March, I was present inside the occupation and participated in the march and discussion afterwards concerning the occupation’s list of demands, especially adding points about the particularly issues of the neoliberal higher education system on non-EU international students and staff.


Inside the LSE occupation! Solidarity from the Justice4Sanaz campaign to the Occupy LSE- The Free University of London! Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


The solidarity wall inside the Occupy LSE- The Free University of London occupation. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


Discussing a rough draft of the list of demands inside the Occupy LSE- The Free University of London occupation. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


The start of the Occupy LSE solidarity march. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


The Occupy LSE solidarity march passing by LSE Library. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


Justice4Sanaz taking part in the Occupy LSE solidarity march on Thursday 19th March 2015.


Occupy LSE posters dotted around the LSE campus. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


Justice for SOAS Unison Cleaners. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.


Justice4Sanaz and Fractionals For Fair Play in solidarity with the SOAS Unison cleaners. Photo taken on Thursday 19th March 2015.

During the 2010 student occupations in protest to the £9,000 tuition fee hike, which unfortunately became a reality for British students in 2012, many in the student movement were entirely uninterested in the concerns of non-EU international students. Since 2010, there has been a remarkable shift from the previous inactivity to now including the concerns of non-EU international students within the free education movement and advocating for free education for all– including non-EU international students!

What has changed this direction within the student movement might be the hostile and draconian policies that Home Office Conservative minister, Theresa May, have enacted that continually marginalize non-EU international students and scholars, in addition to their continued xenophobic and racist treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. I believe this has been the game changer when it comes to including the concerns of non-EU international students into the student movement.

However, as I warned while present at the LSE occupation, we must not only look at non-EU international student and staff issues as purely immigration alone. There is also institutional xenophobia and bureaucracy (or as a friend calls it, ‘administrative violence’) that hinders non-EU international students and staff from receiving fair and equal consideration for their grievances.  From my campaign and that of City University lecturer, Dr. Casey Brienza, as non-EU international students and scholars, it is nearly impossible to challenge a university for wrongdoing or to take on a grievance, when your visa sponsorship is tied to the university itself. For this reason, it is probably why you hear of so few non-EU international scholars or students taking their universities to court- not because abuses don’t happen, but rather we have no tangible means of fighting the system once our sponsorship has been revoked by the university. And universities like to keep non-EU international students and staff forcefully docile in this manner in order to exploit our labor for the betterment of the neoliberal university system.  Likewise, as I realized with my own case against the University of Leeds, rules, protocols and the like have no bearings on non-EU international students once they have been forcefully removed from a British university. We need to review student handbooks, protocols and the like to make sure that all students have a fair opportunity in challenging their universities, not just British and EU students!

Also, as ever, the free education activists need to be aware of systems outside the university structure like the dreaded OIAHE. Free education activist must call for its elimination so that a better system that is truly free from university interference can be put in place that will take into account all student complaints in a fair and equitable manner.

Since the Occupy LSE- The Free University of London has kicked off, other occupations are now taking place at University of the Arts London, King’s College London, and Goldsmiths, University of London.  Currently, LSE management is attempting to evict the student occupation. You can help them by signing this petition. Justice4Sanaz send solidarity and love to all these occupations.

Also while in London, I took part in a solidarity demo outside SOAS, for the SOAS UNISON cleaners. To learn more about their cause, you can read this piece that was published in the Guardian about their campaign.

On Thursday, 26th March, I spoke remotely via Skype to the UAL Occupation concerning institutional racism within British higher education. The event produced a good and very needed discussion about institutional racism in higher education and particularly in the art world. However, for free education activists discussing institutional racism, we need to move beyond the “talking” to actually working on tangible action points. Although, I applaud the efforts of the Why Is My Curriculum White? project, we cannot decolonize higher education, when the game players are all white, from our vice chancellors, to professors, lecturers, down to those who lead key positions in the student movement. And neoliberal higher education is inherently racist because it uses financial considerations to quietly eliminate programs that seek to undermine and challenge the structures that profit and benefit from institutional racism. For these reasons, this is why I suggested during the talk that it may be time for BME communities to learn from the historically black colleges in the United States and create our own schools of knowledge here in the UK.

For now, I will be organizing with Manchester No Borders for the upcoming Free Education conference to take place at the University of Manchester. As always, if you can spare a few pence or pounds to the campaign donation drive, it would be much appreciated.

Many thanks for your continued solidarity!

About justice4sanaz

For 3 years, Sanaz Raji, a non-EU international student from the United States, has waged a fearless and brave fight against institutional aggression, bullying, and racism from the School of Media and Communication (formerly the Institution of Communications Studies) University of Leeds. The School of Media and Communication took away Sanaz's scholarship in August 2011, only 2 weeks before the start of her third year into her PhD studies. The School of Media and Communication breached their own procedures and rules concerning evaluating student progress. By taking away Sanaz's scholarship, the School of Media and Communication prevented her from continuing her studies in addition to having a decent standard of living with food and shelter that all students expect as a human right. In waging her battle for equal rights for non-EU international students, Sanaz was evicted from her university accommodation in May 2014, threatened with an ASBO (anti-social behavior order) and now fighting against deportation. All non-EU international students should have the right to challenge their universities for their failings without the threat of harassment or deportation. Justice4Sanaz is a movement to redress the failure of the student movement to discuss the myriad of ways that non-EU students, especially those who are people of color, are silenced, bullied and threatened within the neoliberal British university system.
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