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Open Day Protest Divides Prospective Students and Parents

Photo Courtesy of Charles Hinds

On Saturday, 22 June, King’s hosted its annual open day which was disrupted by the protest led by KCLStands4Justice, provoking a divided response from prospective students and parents.

The students have staged a protest on Strand Campus after King’s College London (KCL) told members of the group KCLStands4Justice (known for their seven-week-long encampment on their Strand Campus) to pack up their tents before the university open day. A representative of KCLStands4Justice told Roar that this came with a promise to allow them to get the tents back up “if they behave”. Furthermore, Roar can confirm a senior member of the negotiating team was “excluded from all King’s campuses” following the protest at the Distinguished Alumni Awards on 11 June.

Starting the official protest around 12:30pm, KCL activists, joined by students from universities across London, picketed the entrance to the Strand Building and displayed banners on the Strand Quad. They stayed outside for at least four hours waving flags, drumming and shouting slogans about King’s role in the events in Gaza. As far as Roar is aware, two talks had protestors enter at the end – one for the Department of War Studies in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre and another in the Nash Lecture Theatre for an unknown talk.

How Did The Students Respond?

The protest had a mixed impact on prospective students. Some shared that protest is a part of student life and does not affect their desire to join Kings – they are more concerned with aspects like student life, academic rigour and life in London. On the other hand, a pair of students shared, “This protest makes me want to go to King’s even more. You always hear that everyone in London is so isolated, but here we see a group of students forming a community and it’s inspiring to see!”.

Another prospective student shared, “I am an incoming law student, and while I was very keen on King’s I didn’t know about all their funding; it really horrifies me. This makes it hard because I wanted to study here but I don’t want my money to be going to this”. This refers to the accusations against King’s for investing in funds that can be linked to the war in Gaza.

When approached for comment, asking about their thoughts on the protest a student responded:

It’s horrible. It’s really intimidating. You know, I’m a Jewish student and I’ve had to deal with a lot of protests outside of synagogues and community places. Coming here on an open day and wanting to find out more about the university and seeing this is really discouraging. I believe they should be able to protest this, freedom of speech and all, and they clearly believe in their cause – but for me that really made me feel far more anxious.

Many more prospective students when approached for comment shared that they were “not informed/educated enough to comment” on the protest. They did however share that they supported the protest from a Freedom of Speech and Right to Protest perspective, saying that “the protest does not affect/ is not a priority in my decision whether to come study here”.

How did Parents Respond?

Plenty of students and parents came away supportive of the protest. One father commented, “I am pleased that this is happening, this is what makes the university what it is”; one mother shared that she thinks “it’s very good that students are speaking out for what they believe”. Another parent said: “I think it’s very very brave that students are speaking out against everything that is happening”.

It was not all positive, with one saying: “I think its good that they have this going on, you know, there’s freedom of speech and protests and they are here exercising it … but this is being quite disruptive, because tell me this: how can we enter this building?”, gesturing to the crowd of protesters blocking the entrance. “It’s good that this is happening, but I think if they were a bit more considerate to those just wanting to learn more about the university.”

Another parent added to this sentiment, saying “I think unfortunately this protest is quite counter-productive to their cause – me and my daughter came a long way, paid a lot of money, and she was unable to attend an important session” because of the protest. They also raised concerns with potential non-consensual filming taking place, saying “we saw one of the people start filming when the protest started and we were walking by. We didn’t consent to being filmed and it is something [the protestors] should’ve considered”.

One of the parents had said there was an email sent out on 21 June warning them about the protest. Roar is unable to confirm the content of the email and any other details shared with prospective parents about the encampment or the protest ahead of the open day.

How Did The Protest Take Shape?

After being asked to remove their tents, the encampment did so and instead placed a long banner with approximately 4,000 names of children who died in the first three months of the War in Gaza (see photo below).

The courtyard still had the five demands hung up, as well as their banners and Palestinian flags.

Most of the protest took place outside the Strand Building on the Stand, beginning just after midday. This protest saw no effort to actively block people’s entry into the Strand Building, despite the picket. This protesting involved chanting “disclose, divest, we will not stop we will not rest” and “in our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians”, and banging drums.

Throughout the open day, staff and students from the various departments within KCL delivered talks to prospective students about what undergraduate programmes they offer. At the time of publication, Roar is aware of two talks disrupted by protestors, including one for the Department of War Studies.

Photo Courtesy of Charles Hinds
Why Are People Protesting?

In a joint post between KCL Stands for Justice (the Instagram account for the KCL encampment), KCL Student Justice for Palestine (a “student solidarity movement” advocating for Palestine), CAGE International, Palestine Pulse (the news channel for the Palestine Community Foundation), and UCL Stands for Justice (the Instagram account for the UCL encampment), yesterday, the call to protest was announced.

The post claimed that a member of the encampment was “excluded from all King’s campuses” and that after the alleged violence during the protest outside the King’s Distinguished Alumni Awards “no security members have experienced repercussions for their actions.” It continues to say that the encampment was given a letter informing them that they had to “remove [their] tents at the encampment for the weekend in order to hide [their] protest from the prospective students”

Ed. No quotes from either communication were provided in the post, and all quotes above are the wording of the Instagram post and not KCL’s communication, as that hadn’t been provided.

While this may have been the original motivation behind calling the protest, this wasn’t made clear to the prospective students and parents. When approached for comment, many asked Roar staff “What is the university actually doing? Are they complicit?”. One asked the Roar staff whether students are allowed to protest freely or whether they are getting suspended, likening the situation to UCLA and Columbia. It’s clear that they did not know why the students were protesting, other than that they were in support of Palestine

When asked by Roar for comment, a KCL representative said;

“We fully support and are committed to upholding the right of freedom of expression and protest within the law. The safety and wellbeing of our community and visitors to our campuses is our absolute priority, and in line with this commitment, protestors were asked to remove the tents for 24 hours for health and safety reasons associated with the numbers of people on site. We have clear guidance in place for protestors to ensure that an inclusive and safe environment is maintained, and opinion and differences can be aired with civility.

“For clarity, students’ tuition fees are used to fund education and teaching, university facilities, and student support services including mental health and wellbeing support, and are not invested.”

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