At least three students have been hit by cars on the University of Sussex campus during the recent UCU strikes and associated student protests.

Reports have surfaced of multiple incidents of cars driving into or at student protestors, two of which were caught on camera. These appear to be deliberate attempts by the motorists to move the students protesting on campus using their vehicles, one during a march on campus roads, and two where students were blockading car parks. 

Video taken by student protestor

The University, having been passed the licence plates of all vehicles in these incidents, have said to student complainants that the motorists in question were not students or staff of the University. We have no details at this time of who they were or what they were doing on campus.

Many students have expressed their concerns to The Badger over their safety on campus in light of these events, and the perceived inaction of the University in relation to their complaints of these assaults. Sussex Supports the Strike have claimed that the University has failed to respond appropriately, and that the students’ right to peaceful protest has been put in jeopardy by the University.  Concerns have been further raised by students that the university may use this as a way to restrict freedom to protest on campus, rather than bringing into question the dangerous actions of the motorists.

It has been alleged that the University’s investigation process centred primarily on questioning the student witnesses and victims involved of their own behaviours, and very little attention was paid to the actions of the drivers. 

Witness statements note  that during the first incident, the car attempted to drive through a group of students in a protest march around the campus, with many attempting to get out of the way of the vehicle. One student from the march held their grounds, and attempted to indicate to the car that they should slow. The student in question was, according to all witness statements, acting to protect students behind them, including one student in a wheelchair. The car proceeded to drive into the student. 

Witness statements of the original event have made clear that while three members of the security team were present, they did very little to stop the incident from occurring. However, students have said that security has responded far better to other incidents since.

In the second and third incidents, both of which took place on March 5, videos show how two motorists drove their cars into students who were peacefully blocking the entrance to a car park on campus. In one incident, the driver initially accelerated at students while revving their engine, and later drove into four students blocking the entrance, until security staff told her to stop and asked for car registration details. In the second, the driver shouted at students to move and threatened to sue the students blockading, before driving into the students. 

After taking reports of these incidents to the Students’ Union, students were encouraged to contact the police and the University. The group chose to approach the University first, who confirmed they would investigate. However, even since the investigation was started, several more similar incidents have occurred, with cars revving their engines, and driving threateningly towards groups of students.

Another incident was also caught on video on March 12 of a car driving deliberately into a student, forcing them backwards towards a line of other students. This event took place on the bridge on campus. 

Sussex Supports the Strike has released a statement about the assaults:

“The response of the University to serious cases of dangerous driving on campus have been appalling. Instead of investigating the violent actions of the drivers, they have instead chosen to blame the protestors. To make matters worse, they are attempting to use this incident to impose draconian rules to limit student protest on campus. 

“We all have a right to peaceful protest and we cannot accept this effort, veiled under health and safety, to restrict our ability to challenge the many issues such as racism, trans and homophobia, discrimination and ableism in the University.

“Despite the University branding itself as ‘radical’ and ‘disruptive by design’, it is both failing to keep students engaging in peaceful protest safe on campus and seeking to repress and punish students for participating in activism. The University must immediately retract its threat to restrict peaceful protest on campus, publicly denounce the dangerous, violent actions of drivers on campus and ban them from driving on campus.”

We contacted the University with the following questions: 

Have you identified the aggressors involved in these assaults, and what disciplinary action will you be taking against them?

What actions will be taken in response to student accusations that security staff did nothing to prevent the assaults?

Have the police been contacted regarding this series of assaults on students?

What would you say to accusations that the University’s failure to ensure student safety has threatened students’ right to peaceful protest?

Can you assure students that peaceful demonstrations will not be threatened by further violence? What measures will you put into place to assure this?

How would the University respond to accusations that the University has failed to properly investigate the incidents, and has neglected to follow due process in regards to these assaults? Does the University believe they have fulfilled their duty of care to staff and students?

In response, a University of Sussex spokesperson said: “The University’s security team have been working very hard during the past month to ensure everyone on our campus is looked after, including those students who choose to peacefully protest. We are aware of some incidents that have been reported and we are looking into them.”.

Featured Image Credit: Fiona Hill – The Badger

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