For those of you who are students at Truro College, it is obvious that many at the college are involved in local politics. But when myself and another fellow student found ourselves being escorted out of our lectures last week by senior management, to a meeting with two uniformed members of police, the intention seemed clear. Stifling any emerging activism.
The two officers in the meeting room were sitting happily with another member of senior management, and proceeded to effectively interrogate us about whether we were planning a demonstration, when it would be, and where it would be.
This was a meeting in college, with police, about what we were organising outside of college. The links between Truro College and local police are, I believe, close and politicised. And in a way, frightening. The college never hesitate to bring the police in on the slightest hint of a planned peaceful protest, despite it not being legally required that even the organisers contact the authorities. They have been all too willing to hand over any details to the police, and ‘warn’ them about local activity that students are planning. This meeting was just one of several we have been pressured to have with police, for almost every demonstration over the past few months. Being told by the police that they had ‘intelligence’ about another planned protest is almost inciting paranoia, and though not anything like the involvement of anti-terror police against the student movement in London, it is still somewhat worrying for all students, regardless of their political views.
It is understandable that a further education institution would want to be in liaison with the community police force, and despite some over-policing, the local force has been broadly supportive of our right to protest – perhaps even sympathetic when one considers the scale of police cuts Cornwall. But the barrage of calls and meetings, largely organised by the college, with police, has been verging on intimidatory. For a couple of FE students to be made without warning to meet with officers to disclose plans, existent or otherwise, for demonstrations, seems to be intentionally discouraging any exercise of our legitimate right to protest.
These are not isolated events. Members of the Student Council who have been participating in the demonstrations have been threatened with removal from their posts on the student body. However weak the student council is, this sort of interference cannot be tolerated. Elected members are being told they cannot march for their political views or they will be kicked off the council. An NUS-backed union would go a long way to stopping this happening.
At a time when young people are facing unprecedented attacks from the Tory-led government with the scrapping of the EMA, the tripling of fees, high youth unemployment and the effective privatisation of our education system, we need representation more than ever, we need to be allowed to express our political views without fear of recrimination, and we need an independent voice that does not have to submit to the whims of senior management.
Our attempts to form a union have so far been met with difficulty. We were refused a direct meeting with the Principal, and have been waiting for weeks for a meeting with the Director of Studies, who has several times postponed the planned meeting. It cannot wait any longer. The NUS are asking for delegates for the conference in just a few months, and ideally we need an SU before then. So we are asking all students, UCU/NUS members, activists and representatives to back our campaign.
There are some things deeply wrong with Truro College. The fact that there are more business-owners on the governing board than students, the lack of transparency in how the college is run, or the unfolding farce that is the poorly funded and powerless Student Council – these are all troubling issues, and for the many problems, there is a solution. Students need representation, independence and political freedom. We need a union.