"Even though repression is increasing at universities, it also opens new possibilities for struggle and activism" - Webinar on Demilitarize Our Campuses: Ending Repression at Universities

January 16, 2021

Dima Khalidi, Dhirak Nite, Helberth Augusto, Asil Hussain and Natasha Ion discussed how to demilitarize campuses and how to end repression at universities as part of the student conference, “Decolonising our campuses: students unite against oppression,” organized from 13-15 November 2020.

Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal (US), started by explaining that Zionist repression is entrenched and focused on campus where students are most active on Palestine. One of the students’ demands across the US, related to Palestine and Black Lives Matter, is to get police off their campuses.There is a campaign at the University of California (UC), for instance, to pressure the university to cut ties with the Los Angeles police. UC is in fact aA clear example of how universities can be complicit in racism, police repression and theft of indigenous lands. UC also invests in companies that are complicit in the Israeli violations of Palestinians rights. Universities do their best to keep the status quo and contribute to the dynamics and structures of injustices and racism. 

Dhiraj Nite,  an Assistant Professor at the School of Liberal Studies, Ambedkar University, Delhi (India) and President of the Ambedkar University Faculty Association, spoke about how even though repression is increasing at universities, it also opens new possibilities for struggle and activism. Educational institutions are ideological instruments of the power and/or cultural terrain of public reasoning  and ongoing contestation over freedom, social justice and opportunities. The enrolment ratio in India for higher education is about 28% in the 18-24 age bracket. The denial of access to higher education prolongs the dominant and oppressive ideological order in India. The struggle and assertion for progressive and democratic universities is faced with repression on different levels; curriculum, books, protests, and privatization, etc. 

Dhiraj also mentioned that right-wing organizations, supported by the state, violate academic freedom and basic human rights, and have even murdered teachers and students. In spite of this, there is a new rainbow of unity in the struggles of students' coalitions.

Helberth Augusto, teacher and Coordinator for Degree in Education with Emphasis on Human Rights, Faculty of Education, National Pedagogical University, Bogotá (Colombia) addressed police brutality on campuses and how administrations and the state attempt to justify it. In Colombia students are often accused by governments of being connected to resistance guerillas, thus justifying the extrajudicial killings and systematic violence carried out by the police against them.

Under neoliberalism public funds for education have been used for other purposes such as private education. The Colombian Government has encouraged the withering of public universities to let people favor privatization. Public universities behave like private ones by charging students more fees. 

Police have blinded dozens of students in the last few years. Universities and students are targeted by state intelligence agencies. Often police disguise themselves as active students to catch even more students. In 2017, for example, the student activist Carlos Pedraza was kidnapped and killed. 

Helberth mentioned the mobilization for Zero Fees in response to the government’s defunding of public universities; students organised hunger strikes to get more funds for the universities and achieved some victories. Helberth ended by saying we need to create cracks in the systems of oppression around the world.

Asil Hussain, activist in the Idea Factory initiative at Birzeit University (Palestine), explained that her organisation seeks to encourage pluralism and diversity and to end student fragmentation. 

She explained how important it is for students to work closely with trade unions. Israeli colonisation deeply affects students' work and makes it easier for youth to be excluded from the political sphere.

Aseel ended by saying that students across the globe are particularly responsible for change. 

Natasha Ion, Campaigns and Movement Building Coordinator at People & Planet (UK), explained that the fossil-free movement is pushing universities to divest from fossil fuel companies. 

The investments of universities are power. Universities invest money in companies, and companies fund research in universities. So these business relations are in conflict with the nature of universities as a bastion of knowledge and freedom. 

This made universities in the UK more hostile to student organizations and activism. For example, at the University of London, students occupied buildings to support cleaning workers and were beaten by security. Since the implementation of neoliberal policies, private companies, such as G4S, are in charge of university security.

By building strong intersectional struggle coalitions, Natasha said, we can challenge violent and oppressive policies which aim to discourage students from engaging in activism, especially minority groups and international students.

During question time Dima argued that our justice movements have a huge challenge and more power. It is up to us to define our story. The struggle for free speech is tied to the struggle against privatization of universities. Universities should be accountable to their students, faculty, workers and communities, not to funders and donors. Divestment decisions are the result of years of organizing and education. Natasha added that our victories breed more attacks/violence against us so our collective voices along with legal support can help us go on. 

Dhiraj added that any struggle for democracy and civil liberties should go beyond nationalist divisiveness.

Helberth suggested we should create a general roadmap on how we can create situations to resist so that we can understand the contexts of struggles in general not only in universities;  

We need to make sure, Helberth said, that our struggle for the right to education not only encompasses students but also brings together the struggles of faculty workers, students and alumni. He ended by saying that we need to build locally but aiming for global change. 

If you missed the webinar you can watch it here.

January 16, 2021


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