Season’s Greetings from Justice4Sanaz

Justice4Sanaz would like to wish a happy holiday season to all those who have supported the campaign throughout the year. Extra special thanks to our friends at Leeds No Borders, Manchester No Borders, Movement for Justice By Any Means Necessary, Warwick Anti-Sexism Society, Wharf Chambers, and Fighting Against Casualisation in Education.

We hope that our supporters take the time to learn more about the Save Kelechi campaign underway and donate any spare coins to help Kelechi as she battles with the Home Office to remain in the UK. Already the campaign has raised more than £900, but they still need another £1,000 in order to cover Kelechi’s living and legal costs.

As ever, thank you for the love, care and solidarity that you have shown Sanaz. Without your generous and kind help, Sanaz and the campaign would not be able to continue! Wishing all our supporters all the very best for 2016!

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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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Photographic Proof of Security Manhandling Sanaz at LUU’s Why is My Curriculum White Event

It has been brought to our attention that the Leeds Tab published a piece about Sanaz’s intervention at the Why is My Curriculum White Leeds Launch. Of course, as expected, the Leeds Tab piece concerning Sanaz’s intervention is nothing more than a fine example of one-sided, one dimensional reporting. After all, the Leeds Tab is the Daily Mail of student media! Duncan Claber, the author of the Leeds Tab piece writes that Sanaz’s interruption made “several allegations about the University’s conduct” as if to infer that whatever Sanaz said during her intervention was a rambling pack of lies. Had Claber taken the time to glance at this blog, the extensive media coverage the Justice4Sanaz campaign has generated, and in particular, had read the Ceasefire expose where from a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, the campaign found numerous of instances were faculty at the School of Media and Communication used racist, xenophobic and ableist language to describe Sanaz, perhaps Claber wouldn’t make baseless and false accusations against the Justice4Sanaz campaign! If Claber was really serious about reporting a balanced perspective, he could have also read a piece outlining the rational why Sanaz decided to intervene at the Why is My Curriculum White event along with Mr Erizia’s statement at the abuse that both he and Sanaz were met with by Leeds University security. But alas, this is the Leeds Tab we are talking about- we had little expectation that the piece would be anything less than a farce.

Adding insult to injury, Claber maintains that “the event was a huge success for both Melissa and the student body and a great event to mark the end of Black History Month.” The violent abuse of a 5’3 foot WoC disabled activist by three white security guards at an event that was purposed by the Leeds University Union (LUU) as being a safe space during Black History Month is not a “huge success.”  What LUU, followed by the NUS Black Students’ Campaign showed was the abysmal and disgusting manner in which securitization and neoliberalism are being employed by mainstream anti-racist campaigner to only suppress grassroots anti-racist Black/PoC and WoC lead campaigns. If Ms Owusu, Education Officer of the Student Executive at LUU maintains that the Why is My Curriculum White event was to be a safe space, the why was there 4 white security guards from Leeds University Security on hand during the event? How can one have a safe space policy with such a high level of official university security present- the very same security that often oppresses and brutalizes Black, PoC, and WoC students and staff on campus?

As for the Why is My Curriculum White event furthering the ethos of neoliberalism under the banner of anti-racist activism, someone who attended the event had this to say:

The whole framing of the WIMCW event was bogus from the start -the claim that it’s just about reading lists and representation on the curriculum. It felt to me like it was set up by LUU in a way that is pandering to students as consumers, […] there was no meaningful political commitment in that event – it seemed part and parcel of neoliberal education. I think your intervention in the event showed it up for how hollow it was.”

Of course, as it was stated in the Tab Leeds piece, Ms Owusu claimed that she wants, “Leeds University to be number one in the world for a diverse curriculum.” As anti-racist academics, activists and campaigners, we need to question the motives of Black and PoC individuals who seek not to dismantle the harmful effects of neoliberalism that disproportionate effect working class Black, PoC and migrant communities, but rather are merrily injecting neoliberal language and policy in the service of both institution and the state.  After all “diversity” talk is problematic language itself.  As a recent piece questioning the politics of diversity published in Salon, Ellen Berrey indicates,

“Ultimately, I see diversity as a big lie. We need fewer cheerful logos and more effective action. Like an honest reckoning with racist housing policies that have robbed people of color of wealth.”

The fact that Ms Owusu and the NUS BSC leadership on hand at the event failed to include the Justice4Sanaz campaign into the discussion and a comprehensive action plan that Black, PoC and white students can use to eradicate white supremacy and institutional racism on campus, is all the more telling of how water-down their commitments are to said issues.

What Justice4Sanaz campaign saw at the Why is My Curriculum White Leeds Launch event was nothing more than cosmetic-feel-good-ally-theater. It was a event in which LUU student reps, mainstream student activism via the NUS and academics could all come together and perform a spectacle of anti-racist politics in order to pat themselves on the back in a smug, self-congratulatory manner without any actions or plans to support Black and PoC students working towards these very same issues.

Perhaps the only good thing about the Leeds Tab piece are the photographic evidence of the intense security presence followed by the brutal violence that Sanaz incurred by Leeds University Security which you can see below.

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Leeds University security guard standing and observing the Why is My Curriculum White talk. Photo courtesy of The Leeds Tab.

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Sanaz reading her prepared statement while being violently manhandled by three white security guards at an event to question white supremacy in education. Photo courtesy of The Leeds Tab.

The Justice4Sanaz campaign filed a letter of complaint to LUU  on the 4th November 2015. We expect to get a response from the LUU within 15 days.  We have already heard that the student unions of King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies are also sending letters of concern to LUU about the violent treatment that Sanaz Raji sustained at the Why is My Curriculum White event. We will be keeping everyone informed as to what response LUU gives regarding our complaint.

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Tony Erizia’s Statement Concerning Sanaz’s Intervention at the Why is my Curriculum White Leeds Event

Tony Erizia, a Manchester based activist who has been involved in campaigns for anti-racist and Palestine activism for many years, attended the Why is my Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event on the 26th October 2015. This was the statement that Mr Erizia wrote concerning what transpired and how he and Sanaz Raji were manhandled and violently treated by 4 security guards present at the event. For full details of the background of Ms Raji’s intervention, you can read what has been elaborated here.

Statement of facts from Tony Erizia

On Monday 26/10/2015 I journeyed to the University of Leeds with Sanaz Raji to attend the event Why Is My Curriculum White, organized as part of the Black History Month and staged by the Leeds Student Union.

On the journey over Ms Raji read to me a statement she had prepared which sought answers to serious issues that had emerged between herself and both the university union and the NUS. The event, she told me, would feature senior members from both bodies, including officers from the Black Student Union.

Shortly after entering the auditorium I noticed prevalent security presence. I thought this unusual and later asked my daughter and others who I knew had organised similar speaking events in recent times at universities -if this was customary, and they were unanimous in replying that security personnel within an event was unheard of.

After the presentations came the questions. Now it is important at this point to mention the nature and purpose of the event. Why is my curriculum white- is, as I understand it-an attempt to address the reproduction of racist ideology via institutions of education. Now, when I last looked, an institution comprised more than bricks, walls, paper and policies. It involves real people performing real tasks and pursuing genuine projects. People trying to earn a living, attain their goals and live their lives. To be fair, mention was made during both presentations and initial questions of the relevance of the campaign to individuals of colour existing within the educational system. One such question had just been posed -about the relative scarcity within academia of women of colour, when Sanaz made her intervention.

From the moment of our arrival I had become aware of the nervousness of some in the room toward us. A female security officer had already ordered Ms Raji to desist from recording the event after a complaint from -what I took to be union officers. Now, as she rose to read out her statement all hell seemed to break loose. She was grabbed (that is the only word for it) by three large white male security staff and bundled down the steps towards the exits. Ms Raji is at best about 5ft 4in in old money. When I followed and attempted to intervene-I feared Sanaz suffering injury- I was physically rebuffed by a goon in a day glow style outfit. Knocked backwards I complained out loudly that at an event organized by and for people of colour with the aim of providing an outlet for the expression of our issues-this could be permitted to occur.

Let me put it bluntly: a woman of colour being prevented from voicing her issues, moreover, being physically assaulted by white male employees of the very organisations that were charged with protecting her rights!

Finally-after consternation from within the audience- Sanaz got to read out her statement, whilst sat on the floor surrounded by the Union’s heavies.

Meanwhile on the podium sat those charged to represent people like her. Most of them as silent as they had been accused of being by Ms Raji throughout the period of her struggle with the institutions of state and education who, moments previously, they had been denouncing as institutions of racism.

One black female union officer tried to drown out Sanaz by shrieking down a microphone. Another followed us out and confronted Sanaz. The woman, who stood a good 2 inches above my 6ft- became hysterical and began to scream down to Sanaz’s face. Fearing the possibility of assault, we left the building. The female followed us, still screaming hysterically. She only desisted when security once again intervened. We then left the campus.

Throughout my life I have been confronted by challenges arising from my ethnicity. At work and in schools, colleges, universities and even in the streets. One night in 1978, I sat down with a small group of compranero/as at the University of Essex and we set down the principles, aims and constitution for what I believe was the first autonomous political organisation for non-white students in English academia. In the mid-1980s I was part of the movement of teachers in West London who challenged the organisation and curriculum of schools and their inability to respond to the needs of ethnic minorities either as students and staff. After what I witnessed that Monday at Leeds, I wonder why we bothered.

As Ms Raji so eloquently observed-there is no point in conducting talking shops around the problems that still persist in our society, deriving from a past of imperialism and colonization- whilst studiously and conspicuously ignoring real life victims- advocate war then ignore the casualties? Monday 26/10/2015 was not an auspicious evening for freedom of expression nor racial justice at Leeds University Students Union.

Tony Erizia

31/10/2015

Manchester

England

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LUU’s Why is My Curriculum White? Event & Why Justice4Sanaz Intervened

For more than three years, the Justice4Sanaz campaign has tried to gain the support of Leeds University Union (LUU), all to no avail. The Justice4Sanaz campaign was set up in April 2013 to fight back against racist, xenophobic discrimination at the School of Media and Communication (formerly the Institute of Communications Studies), University of Leeds  which lead to Sanaz Raji being forced off of her PhD scholarship, forced out of her PhD studies, into a life of penury and now homelessness while contending with a precarious immigration status.

Despite meeting with LUU for over three years, the Justice4Sanaz campaign has been consistently ignored, our e-mails left unanswered and have had our inquiries, requests for solidarity and support consistently rejected. Therefore, we were surprised to find on the 17th October that LUU was sponsoring the Why is my Curriculum White? talk to discuss white supremacy, racism and Eurocentric teaching within British higher education. While the we welcomed such a much needed intervention by LUU into opening a discussion into these issues, we were stunned to find that Justice4Sanaz campaign sidelined again, with no discussion about a grassroots campaign that is at the very forefront of this discussion at the University of Leeds. Therefore, Ms Raji decided to send Ms Melissa Owusu, the Education Officer at LUU a public appeal on the Facebook event page for Why is My Curriculum White? which you can read here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1519582675000328/permalink/1522652004693395/

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For 6 days Ms Owusu refused to answer to the public appeal for the Justice4Sanaz campaign to be included or at the very least mentioned at the Why is My Curriculum White? event. The Justice4Sanaz campaign wants to stress that at all times, Ms Owusu ignored our request to speak and to answer Ms Raji’s public appeal. You can see some examples of this here:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153122522585843&set=pcb.10153122524100843&type=3&theater

Then on Friday 23rd October, Ms Owusu finally wrote a response after the tremendous support for the Justice4Sanaz public appeal and for the merits of what we were requesting. Ms Owusu’s response can be found here:

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The Justice4Sanaz campaign found Ms Owusu’s response entirely deficient in tone and lacking in action. In fact, it was noting more than someone using their power to discipline and silence our voice rather than to engage with the important aspects to Ms Raji’s public appeal. Ms Raji would not need to have gone to such great lengths had LUU worked with the Justice4Sanaz campaign at the onset. If anything, Ms Owusu revealed that she was more interested in controlling the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch to reflect a thoroughly institutional approach to the event that did not ruffle the feathers of the University of Leeds, while saving her own face in order to look in control. With people like this, it is no wonder why we are still having a conversation about white supremacy and racism within British higher education– it allows mainstream student political leaders to manipulate the truly revolution and radical message by distilling it into something that neoliberal “diversity” oriented Black and PoC activists can use to make themselves appear radical- i.e. cosmetic/performance activism, while ignoring the truly radical work of those Black and PoC activists who are engaged in these struggles, day in, day out. After all, Ms Raji is not interested in becoming an elected member of the NUS or becoming a Labour councilor- she simply wants to vindicate her name that has been rubbished by the University of Leeds and to help other non-EU international students of color who experience institutional racism, and xenophobia on and off campus.

Compounding this was that we found out that Ms Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign (BSC) Officer was also set to speak at the University of Leeds for the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch. In May 2014 the NUS BSC passed a motion in to support the Justice4Sanaz campaign. The motion, entitled “Black International Students” indicates that the NUS BSC would “support the Justice4Sanaz campaign.” Since the passing of this motion, the campaign has not received any tangible support for over a year. Therefore when we learned that Ms Bouattia was set to speak at the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event, Ms Raji sent this public message which indicated that speaking at the event without mentioning and/or inviting the Justice4Sanaz campaign to take part would be violation of the motion that the NUS BSC passed in May 2014. Ms Bouattia’s response was equally disappointing- again, you can see everything in the link below, along with her supporters and NUS officers, many of whom have consistently failed to answer messages sent from the Justice4Sanaz campaign, yet somehow finding the time to comment and send a barrage abuse and accuse Ms Raji of things that are again completely unfounded:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153122366890843&set=pcb.10153122368115843&type=3&theater

As Ms Raji would later remark via Facebook on the 23rd October:

“If people affiliated with NUS spent as much time as answering the many unanswered e-mails and FB messages that I have sent from the Justice 4 Sanaz campaign as they have spent today… dismissing my comments then perhaps people left in my position would get some much needed support.”

Ms Raji again reiterates in a public note on Facebook this particular point further  and why she intervened in a public manner via social media to both Ms Owusu and Ms Bouattia  that you can read here:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/sanaz-raji/the-politics-of-silencing/10153281240813721

Despite all these interventions and pleas for solidarity and help, the Justice4Sanaz campaign were again ignored by both LUU and the NUS BSC before the run up to the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event. On the day of the event, Exeter Socialist Students, published this statement demanding that LUU and NUS BSC include the Justice4Sanaz campaign in the panel discussion for the Why is My Curriculum White? event.

On Monday 26th October, Ms Raji attended the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch with Mr Tony Erizia, one of the founders of the NUS BSC and a active member Manchester Palestine Action.  We were curious to  see if either Ms Owusu, who indicated in her online FB comment that she would say something about the Justice4Sanaz campaign at the start of the discussion, or Ms Bouattia would mention the campaign in her discussion at the event.

As you can see in this recording below there was no mention of the Justice4Sanaz campaign by either Ms Owusu or Ms Bouattia. While Ms Raji was recording the talk, two LUU staff members noticed her filming and alerted security who then asked Ms Raji to stop filming. The reason that Ms Raji was  filming was for her own person safety. Apparently, the event took place in a room that did not allow for personal filming despite the fact that there were a few video cameras on premise filming during the event.

http://bambuser.com/v/5880698

What was even more disturbing and odd was the heightened security presence at the event. There was a total of 4 security guards at the event, 3 big men, and one woman, all white, who were guarding the the two exits. Supposedly Ms Owusu via the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch FB event page claimed that the event would be a ‘safe space’ but with all the security presence around, Ms Raji indicated that she felt neither safe nor very much welcomed at the event. Additionally, there was no threat of far-right, racist violence at the event or organizers so exactly why was there so much security presence at the venue on the day of the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch?

After the panelist concluded their respective talks, Ms Owusu opened the floor for a Q&A. It was at this point that Ms Raji began to read this statement:

“As Arundhati Roy stated once:

There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

I start with this quote because for more than 3 years, the Justice4Sanaz campaign has been fighting against institutional racism and xenophobia at the University of Leeds. I was forced out of my PhD program and scholarship, put into penury and made homeless and now in a precarious immigration situation with the Home Office due to the actions of the School of Media and Communication. In June 2014 the campaign did a Freedom of Information request on the University of Leeds and found that professors and lecturers circulated in e-mails, racist, xenophobic and ableist comments about me, which were later published in an investigative piece by Ceasefire Magazine.

In the 3 years that the Justice4Sanaz campaign was established, we have consistently asked Leeds University Union to provide solidarity for our activism and, more importantly to support us in helping to vindicate my name and to safe-guard the rights of many non-EU international students of color who face victimization on and and off campus. At all times, our requests have been dismissed and ignored by LUU despite 8 other student unions supporting the Justice4Sanaz campaign. It is not “irrelevant” to bring this up, given that we met with both Gemma Turner and Freya Govus who are also on this year’s student executive. I mention this to underscore how consistent the silencing has been from LUU with regard to people like myself fighting the very racism at this institution that we are speaking about tonight.

While the Justice4Sanaz campaign welcomes a discussion about decolonizing education and the endemic white supremacist discourse within British Western academia, we are perplexed that LUU has organized this talk from a purely academic discourse without injecting the voice of a grassroots campaign that is apart of this very struggle. As we have always maintained in the lead-up to this event, it isn’t conducive to have a panel on decolonizing education while ignoring my case.

In closing, an event like this, no matter how well-meaning, rings hollow for those that fight with these struggles everyday, while ignored by the very structures that should be supporting and protecting the rights of all Black, PoC and non-EU International students.”

While reading the statement, Ms Raji was manhandled and roughed up by two big white male security guards, who proceeded to drag her down the stairs case where she was standing, reading the statement. What is even more shameful was that in an audience discussing the harmful effects of racism and white supremacy, no one intervened to prevent Ms Raji from being brutalized by these security guards! Ms Bouattia made a half-hearted attempt at preventing the security guards from dragging Ms Raji’s body outside the venue. Mr Erizia demanded that the security guards end their brutal aggression towards Ms Raji. Ms Raji quickly read the rest her statement while flanked by security guards around her. After Ms Raji finished, Ms Owusu began to speak on a microphone, dismissing the finer points of the Justice4Sanaz statement, not taking responsibility for the years of failure on behalf of the LUU’s deplorable response towards the Justice4Sanaz campaign, and adding insult to injury claimed that Ms Raji came to disrupt the event because she did not like Ms Owusu, which could be further from the truth.

We found all of Ms Owusu’s accusations against Justice4Sanaz bizarre and totally unfounded. Equally bizarre was the manner in which Ms Owusu sought to portray Ms Raji as unstable and to down play the very seriousness of Ms Raji’s pleas for help and solidarity. In fact, the manner that Ms Owusu behaved at the Why is My Curriculum Event? Leeds Launch was no different to how the racist behavior by the University of Leeds, which has attempted to stifle and criminalize Ms Raji’s voice and present her as nothing more than an “angry Brown woman.”

Because of the heightened security presence at the event, Ms Raji and Mr Erizia did not feel safe and proceeded to leave the venue. As both of them were exiting the building where the talk to place, a young woman from the audience began to intimidate Ms Raji, screaming “Selfish bitch” while walking very closely alongside Ms Raji. At some point, a security guard had to restrain this woman because she was harassing Ms Raji and preventing her from safely exiting the University of Leeds campus. It is strange that LUU, Ms Owusu and others tried to construe Ms Raji’s call for support and later intervention at an event designed to discuss the very same issues that she still affected by as nothing more than being “selfish” when the LUU and NUS BSC has consistently ignored Ms Raji’s pleas for support and solidarity in the days leading up to the event.

Interestingly, at no point did Ms Bouattia, NUS BSC representatives or any other LUU representative check on Ms Raji to see if she was fine given the manhandling by security guards hired by the event. In fact, what is even more grotesque was while Ms Raji was being brutalized by these 2 security guards, all of the NUS BSC passively sat and watched!  Given the fact that Ms Bouattia and the NUS BSC have organized talks centered around PREVENT and police surveillance, #StudentsNotSuspect, we found it extremely strange how unconcern and utterly neglectful they were to prevent security brutality and to safe-guard Ms Raji from further attacks. Ms Bouattia spent far more time comforting Ms Owusu’s supposed hurt feelings, rather than caring for a campaign that she purports to support, if only on paper.

In closing, we like to quote in verbatim a comment left on Ms Raji’s Facebook left by Ms Ananya Rao-Middleton, which encapsulates the very problems with the manner in which the Why is My Curriculum White? Leeds Launch event was organized:

And still both the LUU and NUS BSC remain silent on what happened before and during the event — including the physical violence Sanaz endured at the hands of security guards! It’s also very telling that the ‘Why Is My Curriculum White?’ event at LUU was highly securitised, something entirely unusual at these types of events. How can these campaigns claim to support vulnerable students in white supremacist elitist institutions, when they’ve failed so terribly to support a grassroots activist in a very precarious position who is seeking justice and solidarity?

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Thank You So Very Much!!!!

I’ve been ill for over a week with what seems to be a persistent and nasty flu. As a result, I’ve had to cancel attending this week’s Campaign Bootcamp. Luckily the kind folks at Campaign Bootcamp have kept a spot for me for their next training session in April. Until then, I’ll be wearing a necklace of garlic to keep the germs and bugs at bay.

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The best news that I’ve heard this Monday comes from two sources. On the 15th October, the Warwick Anti-Sexism Society (WASS) at the University of Warwick organized a club night to raise funds for Coventry Rape And Sexual Abuse Centre and Justice4Sanaz. I received a message while waiting to see the GP today from Amy Rafiq, one of the organizers of this fundraiser, that WASS will be donating £167.35 to the Justice4Sanaz campaign! Words cannot describe how grateful I am for this donation. I intend to use it to get a consultation with an immigration solicitor. I also will donate some of the amount to the Save Kelechi campaign. I want to thank WASS so very much for their generous support and in particular to Amy Rafiq and Georgina Baker for their hard work in making this happen!

Also, during the weekend I received another generous donation from Yasmin Mahmoudi– honestly, you are the kindest! Thank you so much for all this financial support. It helps keep the campaign going.

Solidarity and love, Sanaz xx

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What Justice4Sanaz Has Been Up To!

The beginning of autumn has been very busy for the Justice4Sanaz campaign. In two weeks time, Sanaz will be attending Campaign Bootcamp 5 as the recipient of the Shami Chakrabati Scholarship for BME Campaigners. Many other grassroots campaigners have been graduates of Campaign Bootcamp, including our friend and comrade, queer migrant right’s activist, Aderonke Apata.

Speaking of Aderonke Apata, she along with other members of Manchester Migrant Solidarity (MiSol) put together a fundraiser on the 12th September 2015 for refugees and asylum seekers stuck in Calais. Sanaz attended and put in a donation on behalf of Justice4Sanaz.  Here are some photos from the very well-attended fundraiser and raffle event. Well done to Aderonke and all those who organized and took part in the fundraiser! Also check out this piece by Naomi Mabita about the MiSol fundraiser event and importance of queer WoC/PoC migrant activism and activism that goes beyond tired slogans of solidarity.

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Aderonke Apata addressing attendees as part of Manchester Migrant Solidarity (MiSol).

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Attendees of MiSol’s fundraiser for Calais.

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Lots of delicious food was made for the fundraiser! Thank you to all who organized this great event.

On the 28th September, Justice4Sanaz attending the Manchester meet-up of Fighting Against Casualisation in Education (FACE). As Justice4Sanaz stated in August, we we keen to work with FACE around issues of abuse and exploitation of non-EU international PhD students on either teaching scholarship or self-funded and employed as teaching  assistant positions. FACE tweeted our piece concerning Sanaz’s own exploitation as a non-EU international PhD student on a scholarship tied to teaching duties while at the University of Leeds.

At the FACE Manchester meet up, Sanaz will be working with FACE activist, Xanthe Whittaker to create list of demands that reflect the issues concerning non-EU international PhD students that are put in exploitative teaching and teaching scholarship contracts. Sanaz is also part of the FACE conference subcommittee group for the next FACE national conference to take place in November.

Lastly, Justice4Sanaz took part in Sunday’s massive anti-austerity demonstration outside the Conservative party conference in Manchester. Mancunians gave the Tories the bird (erm…middle finger) with 6 days of intense protesting around the Tory party conference.   It is estimated that 80,000 people marched to send a loud and justifiable angry message against Tory party policies that have marginalized the disabled, the poor, children, women, Black/PoC communities, workers, the working class queers, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Here are some photos that Sanaz managed to take on the day of the demo.`

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As ever, help to keep the Justice4Sanaz campaign going by putting in a donation. Many thanks against for all your help and support.

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