Going to university conjures up notions of freethinking, independence and being heard. We’re encouraged to be independent, think for ourselves and stand up for our own opinions. It’s the one place where we’re openly encouraged to get involved and make a difference based on your beliefs.
So why then, is the student voice still largely disregarded and silenced? In an institution that promotes freedom of thought and speech, surely the student voice should be of the utmost importance? Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In universities around the UK the student voice is still ignored, with universities appearing to backtrack on their own message of support for the student voice – particularly when the voice criticizes them.
From the beginning of May, Edinburgh University students began protesting the way that their university chose to invest their money into companies that used fossil fuels. It isn’t a new concept in today’s modern world that ‘being green’ is actively encouraged, however the actions of the university quite clearly contradict this.
The university’s blatant ignorance of the importance of being environmentally friendly forced the students to take matters into their own hands, as they staged a peaceful sit- in protest to call for their university to make changes to their investments that effectively stood in the way of a greener, healthier planet.
The university stated that they fully supported their student’s right to protest, yet their actions promoted a different response, as they implemented security at the doors of the protesters building, creating an unnecessarily hostile environment. Days later, the protest came to an unfortunate and violent end, as a member of the security staff that were employed by the university was caught on CCTV strangling one of the student protesters.
It seems that the freedom of thought that’s promoted on a daily basis in the university environment is effectively taken off the table when a student’s freethinking attacks their reputation.
It’s not too long ago that we saw events like this unfold at The University of Arts London. The students peacefully occupied a reception area of Central St Martins College of Art after the announcement that 580 foundation places would be cut in the next two years. In response to the seemingly negative reputation that the university received, it took a stand by issuing letters from lawyers asking the protesting students to attend court for merely objecting to the proposed cuts.
Universities have no respect for students
The way that universities appear to deal with potential threats to their reputation directly correlates with the level of respect that is perceived from the universities to their students. The definitively extreme and violent altercations that have occurred, due to the actions that universities have taken in order to show students who are in control, act as a harsh reminder that wealth and reputation means more than moral integrity; and this contrasting view of freedom of speech and the right to protest effectively portrays a reputation of the universities that they themselves so fiercely, and ironically, protest.