Public Petition to: End the Hostile Environment at University of Sussex

It has recently been made clear that successive UK governments have been fostering a hostile environment to migrants, people of colour, and Muslims. This has been made public through the Windrush scandal, through the denial of healthcare in NHS, and through the surveillance of children and young people in schools and universities.

In light of this, we the undersigned, call for the Vice Chancellor, Adam Tickell’s commitment to end the hostile environment at University of Sussex. We ask that he withdraw his support for the current anti-Muslim and xenophobic programmes operating in UK Higher Education, and that he join us in condemning racist hostility and discrimination in our sector.

Specifically, we would like him to join SOAS Director Valerie Amos in publicly and institutionally addressing the discriminatory implications of the Prevent Strategy, and immigration monitoring (Tier 2, 4 and 5 visas) for staff and students of colour, and international staff and students, at the University of Sussex.

We want to start by acknowledging positive efforts in the University to address structural inequalities, particularly through an Athena Swan (gender equality) accreditation and the appointment of Deputy Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Equalities and Diversity. However, at the same time we want to note the University's reticence in taking forward the Race Equality Charter and to express our concern over continued anti-Muslim racism and xenophobia at the University of Sussex.

In communications, to staff and to the national press, most recently the Guardian, the Vice Chancellor, Adam Tickell has tackled subjects related to equality. He has noted that higher education is a place for everyone, and that students should be involved in debate and dialogue across a range of perspectives and positions. He has also noted that discrimination exists across the left-right spectrum. We agree with these positions.

Nonetheless, none of these communications makes a clear commitment to the full range of equalities or acknowledges the way racial inequality is embedded in society, and at the institutional level. Specifically, the Vice Chancellor’s statements on equality do not address the inequalities produced and entrenched by the Prevent Strategy and immigration monitoring programmes. They do not respond to the ways in which the university implements and interprets these "statutory duties". And they do not acknowledge or address how this creates an environment of surveillance, threat and structural marginalisation for staff and students of colour, Muslim staff and students, and staff and students whose well-being is contingent on visa sponsorship.

Where the Vice Chancellor has publicly voiced concern for equality he has done so in relation to abstracted notions of free speech and public duty. He argues for example that to open up “free speech... more, not fewer, points of view [are] to be heard”. This argument assumes that the ability to speak and act freely is already evenly distributed in society, and that these freedoms need simply to be protected evenly. It does not recognise that structural inequality has systematically silenced some and given voice to others. It does not consider how freedom to speak and act is already limited by power in society and that power operates through race and xenophobia (in addition to class, gender, sexuality and disability).

Such a position cannot therefore address how the Prevent Strategy and immigration monitoring programmes limit the speech and actions of certain populations, are based on structural anti-Muslim racism and xenophobia, and so negatively impact upon the academic participation of people of colour, Muslims and international staff and students.

We ask the Vice Chancellor to respond to these concerns relating to the hostile environment at the University of Sussex. We ask:

1. that he make public his opposition to Prevent on the basis that he has duty of care to staff and students at University of Sussex, and on the basis that the programme is discriminatory and hostile, and forces people of colour, Muslims, and migrants at the University into positions of extreme stress, trauma, material vulnerability and silence.
2. that he make public his opposition to immigration monitoring on the basis that he has duty of care to international staff and students at University of Sussex, and that the programme is discriminatory, hostile and forces international staff and students at the University into positions of extreme stress, trauma, material vulnerability and silence.
3. that he clarify how he intends to support students and staff who suffer through these programmes
4. that he further acknowledge and immediately address the pernicious and divisive effect these programmes have on everyone working and studying at the University of Sussex
5. that he publicly restate his commitment to race equality as an institutional approach that identifies, and acts against, race inequality and discrimination.
6. that he lay out how he will respond to race inequality at the University of Sussex, including, but not limited to, the adoption of the Race Equality Charter.


(If you would like more detail on how the Prevent Strategy and immigration monitoring is contributing to a hostile environment at University of Sussex, please read below)


Prevent Strategy

We know that through the Prevent Strategy, Muslim students are subjected to standards not applied to their peers: whether this is in relation to expressing opinions on politically contentious matters or organising university events.

We know that University of Sussex staff have been trained to watch for radicalisation and conduct everyday surveillance on students. We know that when the potential for radicalisation is equated with being Muslim, this form of surveillance is directed at Muslims. We know that Muslim students have been targeted by Prevent officers at Sussex and we know that this has been traumatizing for those students. We know that the University has established links with the Prevent Regional Coordinator and Community Safety Team. But we do not know how many Sussex students have been impacted by the Prevent Duty either through referral to the Channel programme or in being approached by Prevent officers.

This has led the Student Union to oppose the implementation of Prevent on campus. To our knowledge, no such public support has been shown to Muslim students by the Vice Chancellor or Sussex House.

For these reasons, we maintain that this university’s implementation of the Prevent Strategy:

• is detrimental to freedom of speech of Muslim students on campus.
• impacts on and discriminates against Muslim speakers.
• contributes to an atmosphere of racial hostility for Muslim students and staff, and for all students and staff.
• undermines well-being on campus.
• negatively impacts on classroom dynamics
• is unnecessarily punitive against University employees.
• endorses a much discredited line of state racism against vulnerable groups.

Immigration Monitoring

We know that employees and students on visas (tiers 2, 5 and 4) are subject to surveillance, mandatory absence monitoring and have been threatened with home visits.

In recent months the University has informed international staff on Tier 2 visas that that it will be closely monitoring their whereabouts and making them report on their whereabouts, possibly on a daily basis. After UCU campaigning on this issue, the University is revising its approach but has made no commitment to an anti-discrimination position, nor has it apologised for acting with hostility to international staff.

In addition, the university has suggested to staff that it may revoke sponsorship based on participation in strike activity. In verbal communications to staff, this has been framed in reactionary and xenophobic language referring to the risk posed by “hosts of illegal workers”.

We also know that international students on Tier 4 visas are required to report to the police, and are subjected to levels of surveillance (through attendance monitoring) not experienced by their peers. We also know, that where issues of academic performance do arise, international students are put through different procedures, and have different demands made of them.

In the NHS and compulsory education there has been success in pushing back against the government's hostile environment. We would like University of Sussex and the Vice Chancellor to do the same. Unis Resist Border Controls has resources available to help the university with this task.

To date, we maintain that this university’s implementation of immigration monitoring:

• is detrimental to freedom of speech on campus
• impacts on and discriminates against staff and students on visas.
• violates labour rights as staff on visas are limited in taking strike action
• creates an atmosphere of xenophobic hostility for international students and staff on visas, and for all students and staff
• undermines well-being on campus
• negatively impacts on classroom dynamics
• endorses a much discredited line of state xeno-racism against migrants.

Note: If you would like to see the original letter with links to the debates mentioned above, please copy and paste this link into your browser

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