On Sunday 1st December, nine University of Reading students attempted to occupy the ICMA building on the university campus. Two students have been informed that disciplinary action is being taken against them. One has been suspended immediately and banned from campus. The other student has been banned from campus. Below is a joint statement by the students involved that night, detailing what happened in chronological order. On Friday 6 December there will be a solidarity demonstration at the University of Reading.
At around 9:15PM on Sunday the 1st of December, we began our attempt at occupation. A few of us went to the main entrance and used zip ties to block the door. Others went to the second door and began to attempt to block said door with a table and zip ties. A security guard noticed this, and began approaching the door whilst calling for back up. We attempted to continue our blockade, but ceased when we realised that this was to no avail – when security opened the door we were attempting to lock.
The conversation was civil with the first security guard, but when the second approached the encounter took a turn for the worse. We backed up, attempting to seal the next door to continue our occupation regardless. The second security guard on the scene became aggressive at this point, pushing the table out of the way. He then became violent as he lifted the second table, on which students were sat. We attempted to hold our ground, as both security guards used the table to push back on us, repeatedly reminding us to not lay a hand on them. As we began to realise that the encounter had escalated dangerously, a few of us retreated, and with one student left he threw the table aside – with little respect for the student’s safety or damage to University property.
Fearing for our safety, we fled to the next room. Having time to move a stool that was partially covering the door to place it between the students and the aggressive man charging towards us, we momentarily waited as he ran through the open door and collided with the stool. After he stumbled over the stool, he began shouting accusations of assault at the student that moved the stool. He then advanced aggressively towards the student, and another student interposed themselves between the aggressive man and the target of his aggression. The interposing student maintained a neutral stance – his arms raised, palms turned outwards – and was constantly backing away as he attempted to open a dialogue and de-escalate the situation. As this happened, the first security guard attempted to follow the fleeing student up the stairs – at which point the interposing student was accused of pushing the first security guard in his attempt to follow. As this interposing student was also accused of assault, it should be clarified that in this moment all that took place was that his arms attempted to block the staircase. As the fleeing student took refuge in the lecture theatre, another student stood in the doorway – the pursuing guard warned that he, too, would be accused of assault. Both student and guard agreed that no such thing took place, but the second guard who remained downstairs was adamant that assault had taken place.
Once the security guards’ tempers had cooled, the fleeing student returned to the main room. At this point, the guards adamantly threatened arrest on grounds of assault to two of the students (the fleeing student and the interposing student). They then decided to detain these students until the police arrived. The other students were told to leave. Approximately two hours later, the police arrived – no charges were pressed and no formal warnings were issued.
An email to ICMA staff continuing to accuse us of assault bears no grounds. The students were not charged with assault, nor was any formal warning issued. In light of this, we would like any continuing accusations of assault on the part of the security guard(s) rescinded. The University cannot support unfounded or extra-legal accusations against its own students.
The occupation was intended to highlight the following issues:
-That the University must cease all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels and arms. Also, they must refuse to advertise and promote any fossil fuel or arms companies.
-The University cease intimidation of striking staff. This includes (but is not limited to): the threat of pay cuts, intimidation by security, redefining the meaning of a contract, and stating that supporting students are disallowed on picket lines. Further, they must sincerely apologise to striking staff for using said intimidation tactics, and pledge to never repeat the issue.
-That the University ends involvement in and stands against casualised and precarious contracts.
-The University must not punish students or staff for not attending lectures in solidarity with the strike. This includes not assessing any content taught during the strike, and not reporting any non-attendance of international students to the home office.
-The University’s deduction of pay from striking staff be limited to no more than two days per month. All withheld strike pay should be allocated by the University to student services, disability, and mental health services.
-To limit the anxiety caused by the current Extenuating Circumstances Form system the University should allocate one unconditional extenuating circumstance per student per term.
-Full transparency and democratisation of the University. This should include the electing of Deans of School and the Vice-Chancellor, by both students and staff. Information on the finances and investments of the university should be freely available to students and staff.
The ICMA building was our target for occupation because it is emblematic of creeping financialisation and corporatisation of universities. It also reinforces our cause for ethical investment as financial education should encompass the wider ethical consequences of investment choices instead of purely economic ones.
Although the occupation was unable to go forward, we are publishing our provisional list of demands because we still believe that these issues must be raised for awareness in the students and workers of this university – and they should be addressed regardless.
The hostility of security merely highlights the University’s attitude towards students and the uneven power dynamic that exists between University structures and the people who have to live and work within this space.
Students for Divestment and the Communist and Anarchist Society
Note, a list of malicious actions taken by security during the incident:
- Lifting the table while students were on top of it.
- Throwing the table to one side immediately after warning us not to damage university property, and with no regard for the safety of the remaining student.
- Claiming that the student who had moved the footstool was guilty of assault.
- Claiming that the student blocking the stairs was guilty of assault.
- Claiming that we instigated violence with no escalation from them.
- Claiming that the student blocking the door at the top of the stairs committed assault.
- Attempting to enter the lecture theatre upstairs with excessive force.
- Intimidation of students with loud shouting and close physical proximity.
- Stating that security had grounds to arrest students and detain them without a citizen’s arrest.
- Physically restraining a student whilst said student was trying to peacefully stand and negotiate.
- Issuing of a statement by the university to ICMA staff continuing to falsely accuse students of assault.