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Does anybody care?

To many of you, the acronym ‘SSFC’ will mean very little. Indeed for me, until a little while ago, it may as well have stood for Student Sunday Football Club, or perhaps the more apt Students Sacrifice Friday Commitments. In reality, the Student Staff Feedback Committee symbolises a way for us, the fee paying students of Nottingham University, to make our grievances known in an attempt to change our respective courses for the better. Although, I cannot be the only one who sometimes wonders if anybody cares.

Cynical though this view may be, there does seem to be a prevailing opinion among wider society that portrays students as a useless bunch of time wasters. True, Neighbours, Hollyoaks, Friends and the occasional dip into the abyss that is ChallengeTV, do characterise much of the average student life (of course sprinkled with a liberal helping of beverage consuming) however, how fair is it to see students in this, frankly, often quite patronising light?

Certainly, when comparing contemporary student life with the activities of students from the past; our generation does not appear to have the passion for protest that characterised student movements of the 60s. Indeed, it becomes easy to see why many of our parents’ generation shake their heads and wonder what is becoming of the world.

Now over 40 years old, the protests of 1968, often inspired and led by student groups, were unique and did change things in a way that has not been seen since; hitting hard at the core ideals of an entrenched hierarchy of traditional and rigidly controlled universities.

From these protests, governments in France and the communist-controlled Czechoslovakia were rocked to their cores. The barriers preventing many from entering higher education were torn down, freedom of speech, civil rights and sexual equality were put firmly on the agenda and, admittedly most important for most, mixed sex campuses opened up a whole new era of exploration for students around the world.

However, perhaps it is unfair to compare between ’68 and ’09. The 60s were a time of gross inequality, repression, social tension and class warfare, a unique period of history which saw a new generation of liberally minded baby-boomers clash with the symbols of the repressive past. Of course, today, we are faced with issues on a different scale – infringement of civil liberties, global warming, the War on Terror – however these are not perhaps issues which we have to face as we go about our everyday lives. We no longer have to wonder if someone will be denied access to a cafe on the basis of their colour, or fear extreme police brutality when staging peaceful demonstrations.

It goes without saying that students undoubtedly do care about the problems outlined above. As a group, we generally have an opinion over everything from the Gaza conflict, to national identity cards, to the terror arrests on campus last year. Just because the challenges we face have changed, does not mean that we care any less, just perhaps that the issues of the modern age are less emotive to a large proportion of people than those of the 60s (although no less important). Indeed, the common view of students shying away from actively taking issue with the events happening all around us should not always be taken at face value.

One merely needs to look at the tens of thousands of students who protested Top Up fees, or perhaps even to the recent events on our own fair campus where students occupied Law and Social Science building’s B62 lecture theatre in protest over the University’s positive stance towards Israel. There are even those fighting for our individual rights through the SSFC. However, undoubtedly, the affect of many of these protests often seem to be lost on the wider student community.
A quick glance at the comments on the YouTube video of the forced evacuation of lecture theatre B62 (search Forceful Eviction of Peaceful Sit-In at Nottingham University) makes for depressing reading for those yearning for a student led revolution:

“I am embarrassed to be at the same university as this bunch of complete idiots. This is a classic example of attention seeking at its absolute worst”, states one disgruntled viewer.

“So you asked for Notts Uni to shut down the on campus Starbucks and offer 10 free scholarships to Palestinians, and to do so you trespassed and (almost) disrupted the learning of HUNDREDS of students? And you wonder why they used force to get you out? Seriously, grow up and get a job, hippies. We don’t care what you have to say. NO one cares what you have to say.”

Admittedly, these may be views of the more extreme end of the spectrum, but it is certainly fair to say that, no matter what your view on this protest, the activists certainly did not achieve their ends.
Contrast this with events at other universities around the country, where similar protests took place. While our own protest movement appears to have been cut short for the moment, protests at Warwick, Oxford and Leeds (to name but a few) seem to have succeed in achieving a measure of compliance from their own university administrations. Perhaps then, the question we should be asking is not whether the students care, but whether the University does?

Oxford conceded that ‘help might be offered to restore the damaged educational infrastructure (of Palestine), as it would elsewhere, by making available surplus books, journals and other educational materials and resources’. Leeds Vice Chancellor went a step further and issued a public statement in which he ‘expressed his dismay at the conflict and the loss of life in Gaza and Israel.’ The University has declared that it has agreed ‘in principle to facilitating schemes to provide surplus educational materials to Palestine…and that it will discuss with LUU (Leeds University Union) ways of extending opportunities for Palestinian students to study at Leeds.’ The University has also stated that it will review its socially responsible investment policy.

It would perhaps seem a little erroneous to suggest that Nottingham University was actively and resolutely denying accepted freedoms to its students any more than other Universities. Indeed Leeds University cut gas and internet supplies to the building barricaded by students in an attempt to force them out, showing that the actions on our own campus were not so different to those taken elsewhere. However undoubtedly, our protesters were less successful in their aims than any other in the country.

A statement from Professor David Greenaway, Vice-Chancellor of the University, helps to explain why the protest was disbanded. “Having held their protest and registered their concerns, they continued the occupation insisting that their demands be met. The vast majority of our students were not involved in the occupation and many would have faced further disruption had it been allowed to continue.” If the comments under the Youtube video are anything to go by, many are inclined to agree with this point of view.

Indeed, it would be unfair to accuse the University authorities of not listening. As has already been pointed out, the SSFC is there expressly for students to articulate their concerns and opinions to the University elite. Indeed, a new initiative, the Student Education Network is aimed specifically at enabling the university to listen to our concerns all the more. So, the doors are open to us to get involved and make our voices heard, perhaps then we must ask ourselves; why do we not use this service to change the University for the better?

Perhaps then, students of Nottingham, next time we become frustrated at our courses, or see an injustice in the world we feel that we have a moral obligation to do something about, we should stand up and be counted. We are, after all, the politicians and campaigners of tomorrow. Put down your pint, befriend the friendly Fairtrade coffee sellers outside of Hallward, boycott the monolithic (but oh so good) Starbucks and stand up to your tyrannical warden.

But if all else fails, don’t feel too bad about your two episodes of Neighbours a day and your weekly dip in the Big ‘O’ every Friday night. We are students after all.

By Sam Booth

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Peter Davis
    26 February 2009 at 11:50
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    This is a remarkably reactionary article – you use YouTube comments as a source, really? Really? Is this journalism? I could find plenty of comments that maintain exactly the opposite opinion on that very basis. Basically you tell students to put down their pints, then critique those with the audacity to do something.

    You compare this to other universities in a weak attempt to provide balance, but downplay this unfavorable comparison, even though it is absolutely stark to anyone observing it. Why not do some actual research – the vast proportion of occupations have had favourable outcomes, Nottingham is highly exceptional. May I remind you of a number of facts that a) the University of Nottingham was the only university to use force against it’s own students, in the entire country, it was the only university to drag it’s students out in stress positions b) in comparison to other universities, and at this point we are talking of about twenty, the university of Nottingham have listened the least, offered the absolute least, ie nothing and have, unlike others, did not offer positive dialogue to those occupying the room about their concerns while in the room or outside of it (what they offered addressed precisely zero of the specific concerns and zero offer to do anything towards them) c) as a point of fact, the University of Nottingham cut power and heating to the occupied lecture theatre and I believe the only way they had it restored was because some member of Estates staff decided it was a health and safety issue for people not to have basic heat over a weekend – pretty much in exactly the same way as Leeds.

  • Student
    26 February 2009 at 19:29
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    Although I agree with much of this article, the constant reference to youtube comments is ridiculous, it is obvious that an extreme minority, opposed to support for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza for political reasons, over represented their views online. Most students, indeed most lecturers and staff, fully supported the peaceful protest and its humanitarian aims.

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