Update on the WIMCM? Leeds Launch Event

There has been a lull in blogging due to everyone on the campaign being busy as bees. Additionally Sanaz has been very unwell post FACE conference with the flu and a chest inflection that she is still recovering from.

In the meantime, the Justice4Sanaz campaign received a reply from the Leeds University Union (LUU) on the 11th November 2015 to our formal complaint concerning the violent treatment that both Sanaz and Tony received by security present at the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event on the 26th October 2015.

The LUU letter, which you can see and read below:

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As usual, Leeds University Union stubbornly deflects any responsibility for the harm that Leeds University Security and LUU Student Executive put Black, PoC and non-EU international students in with the increased security of an all white security force at an event dubbed by LUU Education Officer, Melissa Owusu as a “safe space.”

We recently sent Ms Smith, the Director of Development at LUU a follow up to her 11th November correspondence, writing the following which we CCed to the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and the LUU Student Executive:

You claim that the heighten level of security was put in place due in part to the “potentially controversial topic” of the event and also because of the number of attendees that participated in the event. I have spoken to both Rachel Williams, Welfare Officer at King’s College London Student Union and to Hannah Slydel Co-President Democracy & Education at the School of Oriental and African Studies Student Union and they claim that it is extremely unusual to have such a heightened level of security present at an event questioning the increased securitisation oppressing Black, PoC and Muslim bodies. Likewise, I have attended talks deemed to be controversial at the University of Leeds, such as when Max Blumenthal spoke to a full audience of 200 attendees at the University of Leeds for the Leeds Palestine Solidarity Group on the 25th February 2015. Given pro-Zionist heckling and threats of violence at such talks given by Blumenthal in the past, one would think there would have been security present at that event. However, there was no security present at the Blumenthal talk. Similarly on the 27th January 2015, Prof. Jeanne Theoharis gave a talk, entitled, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks” at the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre, Michael Sadler Building, to a packed audience of up to 400 people. Despite a discussion that included a conversation on racism and white supremacy- again very similar points made to what was discussed at the Why is My Curriculum White? event, there were no security present at this event.

Therefore, your argument that university security are present for events that are deemed “high profile” and/or “potentially controversial” does not hold any weight. As we stated in our previous correspondence to you on the 4th November, and once again reiterate again in this letter, we question Ms Melissa Owusu and the LUU Student Executive Board’s commitment to a safe space policy when inviting university security to observe the Why is My Curriculum White? event, who is, no doubt, working along side of the police to follow such xenophobic and racist measures like PREVENT, creates dangerous and unsafe spaces for Black, people of colour and non-EU international students to voice their concerns.

Additionally, in your letter, you state, “According to our democratic procedures the only action that can compel the Student Executive to support a campaign is if they have been mandated to do so by our students via our democratic process. I can confirm that support for the Justice4Sanaz campaign has never been submitted via these processes.” In our three years of meetings with the Student Executive Board, we have never been signposted to these procedures that you speak of. Furthermore, the Justice4Sanaz campaign finds it utterly bizarre and demeaning that you brand the campaign an “individual” matter, for as we know, racism, xenophobia, sexism, queer and transphobia, and ableism are very much institutionalised at the University of Leeds and are never individuals issues.”

The Justice4Sanaz campaign also send a letter of complaint to Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign Officer, CCing into the correspondence, NUS President, Megan Dunn, NUS VP of Welfare, Shelly Asquith, NUS VP of Union Development, Richard Brooks, NUS VP of Higher Education, Sorana Vieru, NUS VP of Society and Citizenship, Piers Telemacque, and NUS VP of Further Education, Shakira Martin. The letter was also endorsed by 20 academics and activists, including Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Dr Karma R. Chavez, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin, Dr Adi Kuntsman, Manchester Metropolitan University, writer and activist, Dr Yasmin Nair followed by Shruti Iyer of the King’s College London Intersectional Feminist Society and Hayden Joshua Cooper, VP of the Exeter Socialist Students and Representative to the Student Assembly National Committee. The letter states:

Dear Ms Bouattia:

The Justice4Sanaz campaign writes this letter with utter disappointment and sadness at how you and fellow members of the NUS Black Students’ Campaign wilfully ignored motion 102a, Black International Students, and which specifically calls to “Support the Justice4Sanaz campaign” by instead refusing to mention the Justice4Sanaz campaign within your panel discussion at the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch (WIMCM? Leeds Launch).

The NUS BSC was CCed in a letter on the 4th November 2015 that was sent to the Leeds University Union and to members of the panel, including Dr Say Burgin and Mr Richard Tavernier that was endorsed by a number of academics and activists, including Dr Amrit Wilson from South Asian Solidarity Group, Carlus Hudson from Exeter Socialists Students, Amy Rafiq from Warwick Anti-Sexism Society, and Lily Hudson from the NUS Women’s committee. We have as yet to see an written apology from the NUS BSC for participating in the WIMCW? Leeds Launch while neglecting to speak about the Justice4Sanaz campaign and in turn, ignoring the Black International Students motion that was passed over a year ago.

We truly wonder about the NUS BSC’s resolve to support our campaign and specifically to support non-EU international Black and people of colour, especially when the NUS BSC has consistently and wilfully ignored giving a helping hand to the the Justice4Sanaz campaign. The Justice4Sanaz campaign feels incredibly let down and mistreated by not only the actions of Leeds University Union, but also the actions of the NUS BSC who refused to follow through with the very motion the passed over a year ago to support our campaign. How can the NUS BSC proclaim to care and address the growing racist xenophobia that is plaguing this country, and by extension, victimising refugees, asylum seekers, migrants, and non-EU students, when you refuse time and again to give real and meaningful solidarity to Ms Raji, a disabled, WoC, non-EU international student, who has suffered cruel and exploitative treatment at the University of Leeds, and now with the Home Office.

Adding insult to injury, the Justice4Sanaz was shocked and disgusted to find many NUS officers acting in an unprofessional and harassing manner to Ms Raji on her Facebook when she raised in the official capacity why Ms Bouattia be participating in the WIMCW? Leeds Launch without inviting Justice4Sanaz to take part in the discussions on the 26th October 2015. We have enclosed the screen-grabs of these conversations for your review and those within the NUS [view here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/sanaz-raji/the-politics-of-silencing/10153281240813721%5D

Justice4Sanaz campaign is not as many of your NUS BSC cohorts dub, “an individual campaign”- as we have consistently shown through our research and in speaking to other non-EU international Black and people of colour, have found many examples of institutional racism and xenophobia that are robbing non-EU international students of colour of their education, housing and other matters that are woefully ignored by mainstream student activists.

We also fail to understand how the WIMCW? Leeds Launch was conceived of as being a “safe space” by LUU Student Executive Education Officer, Ms Melissa Owusu, when four white security guards were present, patrolling the event. When Ms Raji made her intervention at the event by reading a prepared statement, three large white male security staff violating bundled her down a fight of steps towards the exit. After vocalisations of dismay from some audience members was Ms Raji able to read her statement, albeit surround by four security guards. At no point did Ms Bouattia object to the intense security presence during the event and, in particular, to the brutal manhandling of Ms Raji. We must question LUU’s definition of “safe space”, especially their continued justification of using security at such an event as you can see from the correspondence by Ms Rebekah Smith, Director of Development at Leeds University Union enclosed in this letter. As someone who has advocated the Students Not Suspects campaign against PREVENT and the heightened policing of Black, PoC, and Muslim bodies on UK campuses, we fail to understand why you decided to participated in the WIMCW? Leeds Launch with given such high security presence at the event. The security presence at the WIMCW? Leeds Launch was utterly alienating to Black, PoC, WoC and non-EU international students who are consistently monitored by university security, police in addition to university lecturers and staff as a direct result of the PREVENT legislation.

In closing, the Justice4Sanaz campaign demands that you provide a full apology to Ms Raji for both your negligence and that of the greater NUS BSC to the Justice4Sanaz campaign and to fulfilling the basic tenants of the Black International Students motion 102a”

We look forward to the responses of both Leeds University Union and the NUS Black Students’ Campaign in the new year.  We hope that both organizations take seriously there responsibility and complicity in what transpired at the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event-especially so if they are truly interested in decolonizing and tearing down the barriers present within a largely white academia that is institutional racist, xenophobic and ableist. Otherwise, as we have consistently said over and over again, we will continue to question the sincerity of their mission to shed light on white supremacy, racism, xenophobia and neoliberal violence that many Black, PoC folks, whether British, migrant, asylum seeker and refugees currently facing each and everyday.

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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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