By Tom Fenton
Over twenty students stood inside the entrance of the Palatine Centre chanting “Our campus, our rights” for a number of minutes before being forced to leave.
Oliver Mawhinney, a first year student from Hild and Bede College told Palatinate: “After quietly protesting, we began chanting ‘our campus our rights’ where we were asked to leave so we marched to the far exit of the Palatine Centre where several students were blocked by security with several students subject to brutality…
“I heard someone mention that the police may have been called and because we wanted to assert that it was a peaceful protest we felt it best that we didn’t return. Yet I believe it was a successful protest.”
Protests began outside the Bill Bryson Library early in the afternoon. Around 30 protestors held placards and signs with slogans including “#copsoffcampus”, “Our Campus Our Rights” and “Durham says Free Education now”
Harry Cross, co-Chair of Durham Students for University Reform, said that they were “very happy with the turnout”.
He later added: “This is a very high turnout for Durham, especially considering that the event was organised at very short notice.”
A number of campaigners were from different Durham student groups, including Durham Young Greens, Durham University Labour Club, Friends of Palestine, Amnesty International and Durham Students for University Reform.
One student said that “one of the staff asked us to make sure the disabled entrance was clear so we did.”
After a few minutes, police were called by security, who, asking them to leave, forced the students out.
The students dispersed before the police arrived and the protest ended, over an hour before it was due to finish.
Solidarity with Warwick students
A Facebook page advertising the protest said: “We are protesting in support of the following points: 1) Solidarity with Warwick students 2) Support for students’ right to protest 3) Call on Durham University to engage seriously with student campaigns.”
Warwick students are still occupying the top floor of the Rootes Building.
William Pinkney-Baird from Durham Young Greens told Palatinate that the protest was “expressing our solidarity with Warwick.”
He added: “The students were expressing their right to protest and faced severe police repression. We’re against that. Students have the right to peacefully protest.
“Universities should, instead of calling the police, engage with students. The right to protest is absolutely critical.”
Sarah Thin, from Durham University Amnesty International and a second year student, said: “I’m here to show solidarity with the Warwick protestors because we should be able to protest peacefully without fear of violence from the state.
Jack Kellam, a 3rd year student from St. Chads, said the protests were “in solidarity with Warwick students who were engaging in a peaceful protest and were targeted by hugely disproportionate force.
“Over the last five years, the police have been increasingly used as a means to break up peaceful protest and quieten dissent.
“This protest was sparked by one particular event, but also stands against the increasing trend for police to be used as a coercive political force.”
Mawhinney also told Palatinate: “As well as showing solidarity with Warwick after the disgusting police brutality, these campaigns also focus on free education. It is important to maintain the momentum on the issue of tuition fees that we have seen from the successful protest in London last month.”
Giacomo Paoloni, Secretary of Durham University’s Labour Club and a 2nd year student at Trevelyan College, said that he believed the protest “should build up support in Durham for a fairer society”. He added that people “care about this country and the state of education.”
Cross told Palatinate this evening: “It is disgraceful that Durham University chose to call the police against its own student body. As students, we are encouraged to think critically. It should come as no surprise when such critical thinking translates into action.
“The reaction of the University security — assaulting peaceful student protesters and calling for police support in doing so — demonstrates the relevance of our protest and that the issues raised are not relevant to just a single university.
“Acting Vice-Chancellor Ray Hudson and the candidates to his succession should consider how to engage seriously with student campaigns.
“Durham students refuse to be seen as apathetic and we are prepared for sustained campaigns on issues such as our right to protest, lower accommodation fees and a living wage for all university staff.”
Palatinate has contacted the University for comment.
Photographs: William Pinkney-Baird