Released following the royal visit in March, the Bush House Security Report exposed how our administrators were able to track students and limit their access to a campus they felt was their own. Our student community has since been forced to reconsider how security is implemented at our university. These are my thoughts.
The report revealed that certain students were identified by the security team at Bush House as being potentially disruptive due to their past politically motivated actions and movements.
On the day of the royal visit, these students were denied access by the security team to various campus and accommodation buildings through the blocking of ID cards.
The names of these students were also given to the Metropolitan Police, and since there has been a call for a ‘desecuritisation’ of the university.
Two of the groups targeted by the security crackdown on the day of the Queen’s visit (KLC Action Palestine & Justice for Cleaners) have demanded the removal of card barriers upon entry as well as a smaller home-grown security team.
While this would limit the power of the university administration to curtail the movements and actions of students, it would also surely open the doors to a wider unmonitored public access to campus.
This raises the question of what exactly our campuses should be: free but without surveillance, or safe but well monitored?
A free and open campus would allow students to rest easy in the knowledge that political expression could not be followed up by a denial of access.
When coupled with a looming threat of access denial, the monitoring of student movements through their activities at entrance barriers is bound to discourage descent of any form.
Universities should be places for challenging ideas and for movements to foment.
Removing potential restraints upon student involvement in these movements may create a more fertile and politically active student body.
The other side of the coin, of course, is that a totally open campus may destroy the illusion of exclusivity and safety currently enforced.
It is, for example, difficult to imagine Bush House as ‘safe space’ for students without some security systems in place to stop the general public using the building as a thoroughfare from Strand to Kingsway.
We must decide whether we want KCL to be safe and secure or to be more of a Hyde Park Corner in which anyone can come to say or do whatever they want.
We cannot have it both ways.
A ‘desecuritised’ campus is one in which students can no longer turn to the KCL administration to de-platform problematic speakers invited by divergent student societies.
There is a level of responsibility which comes with entrusting students with a more open and lenient security apparatus.
Part of the ability to call for bans on speakers or societies on campus is relinquished if the distinction between the campus itself and the streets beyond is blurred.
Taking issue with a specific speaker’s presence on campus becomes difficult if a skeletal security team means that any person could come and set up with a microphone.
This seems especially pressing given numerous controversies over who is, and who is not, allowed to have a platform here.
The security report released undoubtedly raises questions regarding the extent that the monitoring and control of student’s movements are appropriate, yet we must also be careful what we wish for.
‘Desecuritisation’ may give students more power to express themselves and their politics, yet with this, the ability to control any expression, bigoted or otherwise, is lost.