According to the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023, the University of Sussex, in partnership with the Institute of Development of Studies (IDS), has been named number one in development studies internationally. However, issues over official stances on global events and student welfare raise the question: is being the best just on paper?

While writing for the 26 February edition of The Badger, I noticed a familiar pattern in the University’s responses to criticisms and issues raised by students on campus.

Recurring themes from Sussex are radio silence, stricter surveillance, a crackdown on student dissent, or a series of bureaucratic approaches. 

A recent example is the lack of a principled stance on the war in Gaza.  It has been more than six months since the bombing of Gaza started, and while there have been many student-led activities, the university remains indifferent toward the situation. On 5 March, the University of Sussex Students’ Union (SU) released a petition for the university to publish its stance on Palestine. As I write this article, it has been three weeks since the SU published their demands, and the University has yet to respond. Moreover, Sussex has not given any necessary guidance on student protests on campus, such as how to keep the campus community safe. Alas, the student protests continue despite Sussex’s silence.

Students have also raised concerns about their student accommodation – such as wifi accessibility, access to hot water, and a lack of on-campus healthcare. Northfield students have not had consistent Wi-Fi since September 2023, and the university’s IT services have yet to help resolve the issue. Per their petition, the university has been sending generic emails as a response. Sussex students claim that “the lack of responsibility or sympathy towards our collective problem is, above all else, insulting and is evidence of [the university’s] failure to listen to your tenants and students.” In addition, students have also been having problems scheduling medical check-ups in the Health Centre, especially during winter, because of the influx of students getting sick. Stories of international students resorting to contacting physicians from their home countries have become difficult to ignore.

At the start of the spring term, there were also scheduling conflicts in the university lecture rooms. Different classes had double-booked rooms, and some had to share the rooms with different groups of students. On a personal note, my coursemates and I had concerns last term about the last-minute module announcements via Canvas and email, making it hard for students working part-time jobs.

In a panel during the October 2023 Democracy Fest, it was discussed that the crisis of high student fees, cost of living, and lack of disability access on campus defeats the point of the university as a place for liberation. How the university addresses these concerns brings us to question whether the university has become a microcosm of the issues in development that we are discussing in our lectures. Is it not ironic that a university taking pride in being number one in development studies is not listening to its students and staff? 

But then, looking back at the history of student activism on the campus and how the university responds to it, there is nothing new about this conversation. In theory, the university provides statements that support students. In practice, there is much work to be done beyond these internal emails. 

All we can do as students is to continue to protest in the democratic spaces within the campus. Student activism thrives, and past resistance shows that this perseverance results in changes that make university life better. We need to push back and stand up. As feminist poet Audre Lorde puts it, “If I cannot air this pain and alter it, I will surely die of it. That’s the beginning of social protest.”

Categories: Opinion

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