For the past four weeks, several rooms in the Students’ Union have been occupied by an anti-racist student collective called Warwick Occupy in protest to the issue of institutional racism within the Students’ Union and the University, and an event at which retired IDF Ltc. Eyal Dror was invited to speak on campus. The presence of this individual at Warwick caused significant distress to many of our Palestinian, Arab and Muslim students, as well as others, and the SU apologises unreservedly to all who were ignored, threatened or caused to feel unsafe as a result of the event and our failure to adequately respond.
The Students’ Union accepts that we did not acknowledge the strength of opposition to this speaker in a statement that we issued on the day (the SU had received a petition of almost 300 signatures in objection to the speaker being here), and that this contributed to an atmosphere where certain individuals felt emboldened to use racist rhetoric against Palestinian, Muslim, Black and Brown students. We were aware of the nuanced differences of opinion about the event and, in an attempt to appease “all students”, we failed to support the students that had called on us to help. We apologise for not acknowledging the petition in our statement. Addressing this issue will form an important part of our External Speaker Policy review: an existing project which recent events have now made all the more urgent.
Warwick Occupy – led by Palestinian, Muslim, Black and Brown students, and who also consist of a broad coalition of members from different liberation groups - have been calling for us to fulfil a number of demands, including reform of the SU’s External Speaker policy and an overhaul of the SU’s governing structures and procedures. Warwick Occupy have raised concerns regarding the welfare of the protesters, and we accept that the SU could have done more to support students who were subjected to racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and sexist abuse online. For that, we offer an unequivocal apology to all those affected, and we explicitly condemn the racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and sexist comments that have been made against members of Warwick Occupy. One of the core functions of students’ unions should always be to facilitate student activism. To that end, we absolutely and unequivocally condemn the attacks that Muslim, Palestinian, Black, Brown, LGBTUA+, Jewish and other students have been subjected to, both online and on campus. This has come from individuals, on and off-campus, some of whom represent external organisations, and Warwick SU would like to express our solidarity with any students who have received such abuse.
Warwick SU firmly commits to tackling Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, and other forms of racial discrimination experienced by members of Warwick Occupy and ethnic minority students across campus. To do this properly, Warwick Students’ Union needs to acknowledge that in an organisation such as ours we need to be taking an active approach to dealing with institutional racism. It is not enough to say that we condemn racism, we must be actively anti-racist. For too long Black and Brown student activists have been spearheading anti-racist work without support from the Students’ Union, so we must ensure that anti-racist work is embedded into all areas of our Students' Union. Our Trustee board has acknowledged the significant work that the SU must undertake to address racism and other forms of structural oppression, and we will be undertaking and implementing the findings of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion review internally over the next year. This EDI review will encompass all aspects of our charity’s work and all those engaged with it, from our staff to our student members. Going forward, we must continually review all of our processes to ensure that they thoroughly and meaningfully tackle the impact of structural oppression.
These events have brought several existing issues into sharp focus, and have reinforced how important it is for the SU to improve at effectively listening to, understanding and learning from minority groups and marginalised communities to better represent their views. To that end, we have been working with Warwick Occupy, and are grateful for the work they have done so far with us. We would like to continue consulting with Warwick Occupy and other student groups to inform a number of important pieces of work to make change at Warwick SU. We need to take a holistic approach to this work and ensure we are consulting with a broad range of students; including all of our cultural, faith, liberation and campaigns societies alongside those from the wider student body who wish to be involved with us.
In acknowledging this, we also recognise that Jewish students have been significantly affected by our actions and feel let down as members of the Jewish community, regardless of their views on recent events. We want to take this opportunity to express our support and solidarity with the Jewish community at Warwick and emphasise that we are committed to fighting all forms of racism, including antisemitism. The upcoming reviews will have significant consultation with student groups, including Jewish students, ensuring that working with our student communities is an essential part of all that we do as an SU.
We recognise that the aims of Warwick Occupy have always been explicitly anti-racist, and opposes all forms of racist discrimination; and going forward we want to work alongside them to better support the wellbeing of all ethnic minority students and actively oppose all forms discrimination on our campus. Together, we must continue to lobby the University on issues surrounding the treatment of marginalised communities on campus and Warwick’s role in dismantling all types of structural oppression including the racism and Islamophobia that exists on our campus and in our University. Liberation, decolonisation and anti-racism must be at the heart of everything we do as an organisation, and we recognise that our members’ voices – particularly those from marginalised communities – need to be at the forefront of this work.
Warwick SU Sabbatical Officer Team
Please note, full details of the Students' Union's responses to all of Warwick Occupy's demands can be found here.