by Bradley Allsop
Refusing to divest from fossil fuels, thereby aiding the degradation of the planet. Cutting counselling services so that student waiting times have gone from 3 days to 6 weeks. Interfering in the democracy of the Students’ Union. Scrapping sociology and anthropology undergraduate courses. Raising entry tariffs and flirting with raising tuition fees too. Cutting student places and staff jobs… the list goes on. Queen’s University have been waging a war on the student body this year, a war birthed by greed, fuelled by disdain for student democracy and cloaked in misperceptions and flawed priorities.
Queen’s have consistently hid behind the lie that these measures are needed to maintain the financial viability of Queen’s, whilst they continue to lavish senior members of staff with six-figure salaries and personal chefs and the university sits on a surplus of millions. Senior members of staff have poured scorn on the idea of student’s having a say, treated protestors with disdain and disrespect and blocked policy passed by your elected Student Council. This week, however, was different. This week, the mask slipped. This week, students started fighting back.
Over 2000 individuals have signed an online petition calling on Queen’s to reverse the cuts to sociology and anthropology courses, with over 800 students signing a hard copy too. Over 200 students crammed into Mandela Hall on Tuesday for an emergency general meeting of the Students’ Union (the first in over 5 years) to vote nearly unanimously to oppose the Size and Shape Review that has led Queen’s to scrap courses, reduce staffing levels and raise the required A-level entry tariff. Dozens occupied the Black and White Hall later that day to listen to poetry, music and Queen’s lecturers talk about marketised higher education and why we must oppose the loss of key academic disciplines that seek to challenge it. And yesterday 2676 students voted in an online referendum (the highest turnout in years bar a vote on Irish Unity), with a whooping 89% of this agreeing with the call for Queen’s to reverse the cuts to courses and student places.
This defies the mainstream narrative of an apathetic generation content to bury themselves in Tinder and Netflix. It defies the idea that student politics is naïve or childish. Above all it defies the idea that the power at Queen’s University lies in the hands of a handful at the top. In fact, we need to stop referring to the decisions that these few men and women make as ‘Queen’s’ deciding or doing anything: they are not Queen’s, we are. The people you run next to on the treadmills in the PEC- they’re Queen’s. The person you try and beat to grabbing the barman’s attention in the Speakeasy- they’re Queen’s. The students you meet on nights out, sit next to in class and lie next to in sunny Botanic Gardens- we are Queen’s, not the senior managers who consistently undermine our democracy and our education in the name of ‘profitability’.
Activism and student empowerment is coming back to Queen’s at a time when it is needed most and the most important person in making sure this continues to drive forward is you. Join one of the campaigns springing up across campus. Challenge the stereotype society hoists on students. Fight for your education and your chance to be heard. We’ve shown this week that we can come together and use our voices to send a powerful, unified message. We’ve had a glimpse, these past few days, what this university can, should and will be like if we continue to come together and use our collective power.
Senior management are not going to change their plans overnight, but by joining your fellow students we can continue to put pressure on them and leave them with no choice. Yesterday they were obsessed with getting regular updates on what the referendum results were looking like, for once actually paying attention to what students were saying. During the occupation in December by Fossil Free QUB, they were forced to the negotiating table and made to give students a compromise they really didn’t want to give. Even heads of schools have been wheeled out to pass misinformation to students, claiming there will be no staff losses (when the review clearly states there will) and that the SU has changed their initial position (when they haven’t).
As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”. We can do one better than that- if everyone reading this dares to take the fight to senior management, we can have an army.