On September 19th, the Prevent duty came into force for publicly funded higher and further education institutions, as part of the new Counter Terrorism and Security Act. These organisations will now be expected to undertake risk assessments which consider ‘where and how their students might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism’. The duty puts a legal obligation on these bodies to monitor and report on students who may be at risk of ‘violent or non-violent extremism’.
Prevent has been around for a long time, but this new law now makes it mandatory. It recommends monitoring students who appear ‘withdrawn’ or seeking ‘political change’ (this could be anyone going through a tough time - or with an opinion). With the focus on preventing what the government terms ‘Islamic extremism’, the prospect of racial profiling and state-sponsored Islamophobia is all the worse: Black and Muslim students are bearing the brunt of a reactionary, racist agenda, while freedom of speech across the board is curtailed.
To give some context, some recent examples of Prevent Officers’ involvement on campuses has seen:
A living wage campaigner monitored by police for his activism (via VICE)
3 women students at New Vic College suspended for raising concerns (via 5PillarsUK)
A schoolboy questioned by police for circulating political literature (via Al Jazeera)
A conference on Islamophobia stopped from taking place (via Morning Star)
The Students' Union Executive oppose Prevent and strongly believe in fostering a learning environment which allows all students to organise politically, free from harassment.
Members of the Students’ Union Executive have already taken action by meeting with the University’s Student Services team, who are leading on the implementation of this policy, to ensure that students will be involved in developing and reviewing the University’s action plan. They seek to negotiate with the University to ensure that their actions will be as equitable as is possible, and that no student groups are unfairly targeted as a result of their faith, nationality, race or otherwise. They want to fight both nationally and locally; to send a clear message to the government, and to the University of Sussex, that students are not suspects, and this malicious policy should be forced off university campuses.
The Students’ Union will be jointly hosting a Students not Suspects event with Brighton Students’ Union in the coming weeks. These are being co-organised by NUS, the Black Students’ Campaign, Federation of Student Islamic Societies and civil rights organisation Defend the Right to Protest; offering a range of skills-based workshops for tackling surveillance culture on campuses. More information and online registration will be available online soon.
In addition, several Students’ Union’s full-time and part-time Officers are involved in drafting a motion for the Students’ Union Council:
To seek approval from the student body to condemn Prevent
To refuse to engage, co-operate or comply with strategies which restrict Sussex students’ freedom to organise and their right to privacy.
All students are welcome to attend Students’ Union Council where this will be discussed. The next Students’ Union council meeting is on Tuesday 24th November at 6pm, location to be confirmed.