S0.21 occupation ends in victory for students

After eight days the sit-in in S0.21 has ended with the participating students claiming victory.

The students received an email from the University which said it agreed to meet one of their demands immediately and to have a meeting this week, Week 5, to negotiate a compromise on the other demands.

The decision to end the room occupation was reached quickly after the University sent the email which gave the students only a small window of time to reply. Those in the room at the time called a meeting and, as had been the procedure throughout the sit-in, decided by consensus what action to take.

They had a meeting yesterday to prepare for the meeting, which one of the Sabbatical officers will be attending.

Over 200 signatures were collected from people who visited the room.

The University has already released a statement on Insite expressing “its sorrow for the infringement of the right to education in the Gaza conflict,” which was one of the demands.

The other demands will be dealt with at a meeting held sometime next week where a few students, joined by one of the Sabbatical officers, will meet University negotiators.

“I wouldn’t call it a victory but a success,” said Chris Rossdale, one of the organisers. “People are pleased,” he added. “[We are] thinking about this in the terms of the wider campaign.”

Peter Dunn, University spokesman said, “the University is happy it has ended and ended peacefully.”

Rossdale and other participants were quick to emphasise that the end of the sit-in would not mean the end of their campaign.

“After we have left the room the pressure on these issues will continue,” said Barnaby Pace.

One plan for the future is unofficial twinning in which students at Warwick would build “friendship links” with students in Gaza explained Sami Wannell, a final year Maths student.

“I think we have got as far as we can with this stage…time to move on to the next stage,” said Rossdale.

Part of this next stage was the call for an Emergency General Meeting. To do this signatures from 0.5 per cent of the members of the SU members are needed. These 105 signatures were gathered on Tuesday, after less than a day. The EGM was then held the following Thursday.

While the participants said they were happy with this, they would “have rather had a referendum,” according to Rossdale. The EGM is “more symbolic.”

Despite the fact that the EGM was held after the sit-in had ended, which led some to question what benefit it would have, Rossdale and the others present highlighted that if the Union gave their support to the sit-in through a resolution it would be an asset at the negotiating table.

Although the Union offered to act as mediators, the students have been communicating with the University directly over email. When a response is received, a meeting is held to decide on the reply.

Earlier in the week, Rossdale said that the University had “not agreed to our request that it donate old books.”

The demand that the University hold a series of talks on the topic of the Gaza conflict has also been turned down. “[They] said we should go through the Union,” Rossdale said, “but we said that the impartiality it would involve and having the name of the University on it would help.”

Whether the University will keep to this or change its position remains to be seen after the meeting next week.

Other demands include that Warwick “suspend all relations with companies which supply the Palestinian-Israeli conflict” and that the University takes no action against the students or members of staff who have participated.

The University has reportedly “refused to guarantee that there will not be repercussions…even if it remains peaceful,” according to Rossdale.

When asked if those who took part in the sit-in may face repercussions, Dunn said that while Warwick “remains committed” to the right of students and staff to “mount peaceful protests,” the University “has a duty to ensure that students and staff are able to pursue their normal teaching, learning and research activities.”

“The University will of course retain all the options available.”

Rossdale added that the Union, even prior to the EGM, had promised to support the participants “100 per cent.”

Students involved at the room occupation in Oxford were fined and Birmingham students’ sit-in was broken up by police. Other universities are still occupying rooms on their campuses and have issued similar demands to their universities.

The demands issued by the Warwick sit-in are “eminently reasonable” said Rossdale.

Before the University had agreed to negotiations and when the sit-in was ongoing, Rossdale said he was “quite optimistic” about the University’s response.

They had been “disappointed” that the University had been relocating lectures from S0.21. “The point is that people should be able to carry on learning,” explained Rossdale.

“The University is having the effect of…creating an over-confrontational situation.” He could not say if this was intentional or not.

On the Monday of Week 4 the University had not rescheduled lectures, but they did once again on Tuesday and Wednesday.

During the week there were speakers, film showings and musical performances. Some stayed every night, leaving only during the day to attend classes and go home to change. Lunches meant ‘bring and shares’ where many people who were not heavily involved, or had not been before, came to S0.21. Others donated food, bringing everything from biscuits to freshly baked cookies.

The action is one not seen here for years, though Warwick once had a reputation for being an activist campus which earned it the nickname Red Warwick.

“I’m so proud [of the sit-in]…being involved has been amazing,” said Kat Hobbs, an English and Creative Writing finalist. It has “restored faith [in] that people can make a difference and that students…can make a difference.”

She went on to say that the arms trade is something she “feel[s] really strongly” about and that the University’s ties with arms companies mean “we are in direct support of the arms trade and I’m not happy receiving my education at such an expense.”

Ciaran O’Conner, currently taking his masters in International Security, was one of the students who visited the sit-in and was there when the decision was made to end it. He said, “I think it went pretty well. We’ve managed to achieve the same as much of the other universities.”

However, many students were still not sufficiently informed about the action. “All I know is that there were some people who sat in a room,” said Mitra Samarasinghe, a fourth year Physics student. “I know about the situation but I don’t know why they are sitting there…most people probably don’t know.”

Wannell said there were “problems due to misinformation about what we are standing for” but that “a lot of people come here knowing nothing about the topic” and leave having learnt something.

“The whole point was solidarity,” he explained. “A definite success,” Wannell concluded.


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