Two days ago, Michael Farthing and his colleagues of the Sussex management team suspended 5 students. Farthing invoked the safety of all those on campus to justify the fact that from now on they won’t be allowed to go to class, to use the library, visit the doctor, seek help from the student’s union, or be present at any time on campus until the management deems fit.
It is not the first time that Farthing and co have used this method in an attempt to intimidate a vibrant and active campus wide movement against his plans to further marketisation in education. Four years ago, Farthing suspended six other students – “the Sussex Six” – in very similar circumstances, including myself.
It is complicated to describe what happens when you open your inbox to find a short and official email from your Vice Chancellor, informing you you aren’t welcome on your own campus anymore. The first reaction is probably a mixture of fear for the future of your studies on the one hand, while also feeling that in some way it is a sort of badge of honour.
Both of those remained with me during the whole time of my suspension, at varying degrees of intensity. They were also shared by my friends and my family. But the underlying feeling was one of isolation and powerlessness.
The direct effect of being banned from campus was not only my ability to study had been taken away, but it was to cut us off from where we could change the situation we were in: campus.
We did tour the country speaking at union meetings where they were passing motions of solidarity calling on the VC to lift the suspensions, we were able to attend demonstrations and meetings off campus, but that never really lifted the sense that the future of my education lay out of my hands.
Luckily, then as now, the suspensions were not only direct attacks on individuals but an attack on a whole campus community fighting back against management. Our friends and comrades demonstrated and occupied, trade unions and the student union called emergency general meetings condemning management and calling for us to be re-instated. The pressure was so strong that even the university Senate, normally close to the Vice Chancellor, condemned his actions.
It was the knowledge that all this was happening that soothed to some extent the constant fear of what would happen to my education if I wasn’t re-instated. And it was that solidarity, which met us on the day of our re-instatement on campus, that allowed the fear to vanish, not to linger and disarm us as activists. If anything it emboldened us.
Sussex university management clearly does not learn from the past. Our side does. The Sussex community is already building up resistance. Lets make the university unmanageable.
To the five: strength and solidarity. The coming days will be tough, but the movement you have been building alongside many others, is right behind you.
To Farthing and his friends: we beat you once, and we are about to do it again.