Statement from Students Not Suspects - Edinburgh University, 25 April 2016
Students at Edinburgh University are staging a sit-in at the University’s Main Library in protest of the implementation of the PREVENT strategy. Students will take to the library lobby and sit quietly from early afternoon with the intention of staying overnight, preventing the library from closing as usual at 2:30am. The quiet sit-in coincides with a petitioning campaign which demands that the University’s senior staff recognise that PREVENT silences and marginalises students, and that they publicly oppose the legislation and lobby for its repeal.
PREVENT, which forms part of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, places obligations on education institutions to monitor student activities and report students deemed to be at risk of “radicalisation”. According to the criteria set out in the legislation, this includes the need for identity, meaning and belonging, and desires for political and moral change. These so called markers of radicalisation are everyday characteristics of students, particularly those having personal difficulties, suffering with mental illnesses and those who are politically active. The strategy also identifies Islamic extremism as a major target, justifying the disproportionate surveillance and over policing of Muslim, BME and International students. Thereby fostering an environment of suspicion, self-censorship and isolation. Academic research has shown that rather than averting student’s being drawn into radicalisation, PREVENT furthers the type of ‘social exclusion’ which is the primary driving factor for terrorism.
The University of Edinburgh has implemented a new room booking policy which threatens the autonomy of the Students’ Association and has resulted in student events being cancelled. A new policy which monitors student activities in the chaplaincy has also been put in place, in addition to plans for training staff to implement PREVENT. Students oppose the hate-filled rhetoric and practices of the PREVENT strategy and believe that the University should respect the Students’ Associations’ autonomy. In occupying the library we aim to get the University to recognise our concerns and take the necessary steps to ensure its students are protected.