Students gathered for a peaceful protest at the University of Sussex on Saturday (16 October) to show their opposition to the continued employment of trans-exclusionary professor Kathleen Stock.
Stock, a philosophy lecturer, has faced stinging criticism over her “gender critical” views, with an anonymous group of students launching a campaign calling on the University of Sussex to terminate her position.
Students gathered on campus on Saturday to protest against Stock’s continued employment – as well as the university’s much-criticised response to the debacle.
Protesters held placards that said “we were meant to be safe here” and “TERFs out of Sussex” while a university open day got underway. Students covered their faces to protect their identities after the university promised to “investigate” those calling for Stock to be fired.
Quinn – not their real name – is a student at the University of Sussex. They told PinkNews that the protest was entirely peaceful. They have been left perplexed by the negative reactions from some media outlets and on social media suggesting that they were dangerous.
“A lot of people have said we’re violent and that we’re a mob because we’re wearing masks and we’re wearing hoodies,” Quinn said.
“We’re not, we’re the friendliest group of people, and the only reason we’re wearing masks is because we’re in a pandemic and the reason we’re wearing hoodies is because we’re trying to do degrees and we just don’t want to be identifiable. We have our own lives outside of this.”
They added: “We are genuinely just nice people who don’t want our rights taken away from us.”
Student are ‘justifiably angry’ over Kathleen Stock
Quinn said students gathered in the square on campus and “spent the whole time chanting and giving speeches”. Some people turned up with instruments and others started dancing.
“It was quite a good vibe. Although we are justifiably angry about all the stuff that’s gong on, we try to keep it light and keep the energy going,” they said.
They didn’t encounter many negative reactions on the day, but they did have some parents who were visiting the university for the open day “shouting comments” at them.
“We’re able to brush them off and hope they educate themselves,” Quinn said.
The protest went ahead after a turbulent few weeks at the University of Sussex. There was uproar from university management when students put up posters around campus calling for Stock to be sacked over her trans-exclusionary views.
She denies being transphobic, claiming that she “asserts the rights of trans people to live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination”, but argues for the untrammelled right of university staff to be “gender critical”.
The posters were removed and the university’s vice chancellor Adam Tickell issued a statement in support of Stock. He promised that the university would actively investigate “activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack professor Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms”.
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Quinn told PinkNews that protest is the only option left for students now after their posters were torn down. They said the university’s response to the student-led campaign has been “disappointing”.
“Sussex is full of queer and trans students, and also the fact we’re paying £9,000 a year to feel unsafe on campus is quite interesting,” Quinn said.
“There’s been a lot of performative action, like safe spaces and support groups, but that doesn’t really solve the issue – that just help us cope with the issue, which I don’t think we should have to do. I think there should be proper change.”
Ideally, Quinn would like to see Stock’s employment terminated, but they acknowledge that that could be “a stretch”.
“So maybe even just an apology or even any kind of accountability from the university would be good. Anything that would stop us protesting and show us that they do actually care about trans students.”
University of Sussex urged to commission an ‘independent review’ on ‘institutional transphobia’
Tom Pashby is a non-binary master’s student at the University of Sussex. They weren’t able to attend Saturday’s demonstration, but they told PinkNews that it’s essential students’ right to protest is protected.
“Everyone in the UK has a fundamental right to protest. Universities should do their best to facilitate everyone’s right to protest, including when that protest is directed at the university itself,” Pashby said.
“I support the students who protested at the weekend because they are on the right side of history. Institutional transphobia has permeated practically all UK organisations, and it is critical this is challenged and stopped. These students are at the lower end of the power ladder, meanwhile professors and vice chancellors sit right at the top, with the ability to change things for the better for everyone.”
Pashby called on the university to commission an independent review that would examine “its own problems with institutional transphobia”.
“They clearly haven’t understood what they’re saying, given their ongoing statements which promote a false ‘both sides’ narrative on trans rights,” they said.
“Trans and non-binary students face so many challenges in UK society already. It’s time that the university choose to support their students properly, rather than making us feel like our lives are up for debate.”
PinkNews has contacted Kathleen Stock and the University of Sussex for comment.