Voices of the South College protest

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On Wednesday 8th December 2021, Durham University captured the attention of local and national media outlets with a protest at South College, attended by over 300 students, in reaction to events the previous Friday. Indigo spoke to some of the individuals who organised, spoke at, and attended the protest to discuss their motivations behind it and the messages they shared both on and beyond the placards. 

Some of the placards made in the sign-making meetings: ‘Bin Tim’ and ‘Big on Bigot, always Liddle on Pride’

Xiv Hathaway, placard-maker and organiser: “I was at both sign-making meetings and I remember the overall consensus among organisers was that we wanted signs which highlighted Tim Luckhurst’s misconduct in his position. Centring on him inviting someone to speak at a dinner unannounced to the student body, and the mistreatment of students afterwards when challenged.

“We did this while also trying to represent the multiple groups targeted in the speech, making signs that spoke out against the racism, transphobia, and classism mainly. Personally, a big part of why I went to the protest was how unsafe Tim’s actions made me feel, because of Rod’s previous comments about children in some of his articles and his arrest for assault, and Tim’s blatant disregard for student wellbeing, yelling at students while his wife grabbed and screamed at others. For me, that showed he was unfit for his current position.”

Niall Hignett, organiser: “Organising should be a stressful endeavour. It should come with an enormous workload whilst posing the risk of meagre turnouts and little recognition. However, the South College Protest was distinctly different. Societies and associations allied themselves with a determined student body to send a resounding message: hate is not welcome here. Approximately three hundred students, alongside UCU members, made their voices heard.

“They stood side by side on a bitter December day to give an insight into the damage of Luckhurst’s misconduct. Some had already suffered transphobic abuse, with Liddle’s words echoed, and the feeling of being unwelcome at Durham was reaffirmed for POC, LGBTQ+ and Working-Class students. But I’m proud to say the protest gave a glimmer of hope: management may not accommodate those affected students, but the community here stands strong, united against bigotry.”

Olive Higham’s placard: ‘Established 2020 – Already going South’

Olive Higham, placard-maker: “I wanted to create a placard which could draw a laugh or two but also bring attention to the ever-present exclusionary environment at Durham. Hearing that the events concerning Rod Liddle had taken place at South of all places initially confused me; since it was the newest college, you would have hoped they would work to create a more inclusive and supportive environment from the ground up.

“The fact the college Principal, who is ultimately in charge of student wellbeing, felt comfortable telling them that he didn’t think they belonged at university is telling of the exclusionary ‘old boys’ club’ mentality which seems to invade every college space to some degree, no matter how old the college, or how inclusive and open they claim to be. ” 

Georgia Malkin, speaker: “I was one of the speakers at the protest, doing so in my capacity as a transgender woman and the Diversity and Inclusivity officer for Stephenson College. I had been quite apprehensive about this as I did not know whether people would be inclusive or responsive to what I had to say. These concerns were thankfully irrational, as it turned out to be a very wholesome and productive day.

“There was an undeniable atmosphere of respect, in such stark contrast to that fostered at the South College Christmas Formal. I’m very proud of everyone who turned up because we’ve shown that we won’t take any abuse. We are reclaiming Durham as ours and I could not be more pleased to be a part of it.”

I’m very proud of everyone who turned up because we’ve shown that we won’t take any abuse

Lucy Milburn, organiser and speaker: “At the South protest, my main focus was on representing working-class students and tackling the classism that was displayed at the Christmas formal. I would say the main message my speech had was that these elite traditions are already alienating for marginalised students, we need to take a look at how the university progresses in a modern and diverse world and what we continue to put on a pedestal. From my own experiences, I’ve often found that Durham University tends to fly under the radar with its problematic culture, including classism.

“To tackle this, we have to hold academic spaces such as Durham accountable. Overall, the protest was truly a supportive and welcoming environment, and it was great to personally hear from the students who were at the formal. We needed to listen to those who experienced it first hand. Also, I believe that the protest was helpful and comforting for people. My friends who are also working-class and local enjoyed the experience and many people came to speak to me afterwards about how they are glad someone is finally talking about classism at Durham! It just proves how much of an issue it is in general, not only at this particular event.”

The upcoming term will likely see the issue flare up again, as we await the findings of an investigation launched by the University. Organisers of one of the largest Durham student protests in recent memory will no doubt be watching closely.

Images credits: Xiv Hathaway via Twitter;

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