"All these issues have been ongoing for years… refusal to negotiate just leads to more issues…”
The Channel has delved into the key aspects of protests and student activism to help amplify the student voices of Sussex! We’ve had the privilege to interview and spend time with those directly involved in student activism, this article will give you direct insight into what they’re teaching us and how important it is to keep the university’s history of activism alive.
The Strikes: On campus and Across the Country
Four Fights & USC Pensions
The strikes on campus have been led by faculty members and supported by the Students Union. Many students independently chose to stand in solidarity, by not attending lectures, standing with the official picket and even running sit-ins.
What’s the fight?
Strikes surrounding USC Pensions and the Four Fights have been going on since 2018!
The four major demands: (quoted from the UCU's FAQ page March 2022, available to see here)
Pay: Foundation Living Wage for contractors of £10/hr for in house staff.
Workload: There is a demand for a 35-hour working week as a basis for all contracts and a new approach to workload management.
Equality: Close the ethnic and gender pay gap! Run a full equal pay audit that covers all protected characteristics and is shared with the campus trade unions. The UCU reports that gaps between Black and white staff is at 17%. The disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 15.1% and at the current rate of change it will not be closed for another 22 years!
Casualisation: End zero hour contracts. The UCU reports that 45% of staff on casual contracts struggle to pay household bills.
During conversations with a student activist, we asked M why they thought it’s imperative to support their striking faculty. Striking staff have shown courage, standing up for necessary changes for all. As M put it “they want the best for students too… it’s likely those striking are those who fought for our needs and protection during Covid.”
Our lecturers and university faculty are suffering. When they suffer, we suffer. Sussex has a proud history of activism, university students and lecturers often stood together, fought together.
The big question being asked by students and faculty is: “Where is the money going?”
As education fees rise and staff pay remains stagnant, this question becomes even more pressing.
M further mentioned other internal issues within Sussex that student activists are desperate to change…
Does the phrase “Mitie must fall!” ring any bells? Their Instagram page @mitiemustfall has illustrated to us that Mitie is an outsourced company used on campus for “facilities management… from cleaning to consultancy” - quoted from the “Mitie Must Fall Briefing Document”, found on the @mitiemustfall LinkTree!
It’s been reported to us that Mitie has a bad history with students on campus, from rumours of Mitie staff escalating problems to even disrespecting students through-out campus lockdowns. Alongside, Mitie’s negative reputation continues due to their endorsement of discriminatory treatment towards migrants, student activists have been ramping up their actions on campus to make their voices heard! Their aims include achieving a full release of the contract between Mitie Group PLC and the University and blacklisting of the company from campus.
The fight for everyone
Access Sussex is another powerful voice on campus, consistently educating and actioning to change ongoing issues for those who most need it.
Representing members were kind enough to spend a few hours with us discussing their struggles to keep things as accessible as possible. It’s a student-led campaign focused on access to Sussex University from the perspectives of individuals with physical and mental health conditions, those who are neurodivergent, and those with sensory or mobility differences. Recent successes for the campaign include the 2021 housing referenda, which found that wheelchair accessible rooms were unfairly over-priced in comparison to their neighbours (on average, £51 per-week more expensive than the cheapest rooms on campus). With 95% voting “for”, students ushered in change on this issue.
Access Sussex reminds us it’s important to consider that “finding ways to accommodate all disabilities is tricky, navigating can be hard as needs can counteract with each other… but that isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t try.”
This campaign aims to encourage non-disabled people to think differently and to understand that systems and buildings on campus were built with a lack of understanding around everyone’s needs and basic accessibility. Access Sussex wants to see creativity on campus and inspired ways of commitment that support those with specific needs.
One of the main fights for Access Sussex presently is keeping hybrid learning around for the long term. From what The Channel has heard and seen, the majority of our student body wants hybrid-learning to stay. Hybrid-learning makes university teaching more functional for everyone, not just those who have long-term barriers preventing them from attending in person. Access Sussex commented, “hybrid learning doesn’t force anyone back home! Other campaigns such as Under the Sheets support this too as survivors won’t have to share spaces with perpetrators”.
Politics within Sussex University
Student activism is a form of expression. It’s brave, creative, and loud. We have heard this over and over, but student activists need your support!
Here are some simple ways you can get involved on campus:
Follow student activist pages on social media
Participate in teach-outs
Donate to student-promoted charities
Vote in the SU elections
This is only a small glimpse into the issues being tackled at Sussex University. There are so many other groups that make progress every day. Sussex Roots fought for the survival of their garden as new buildings were being planned; Race Equity Advocates Sussex (@sussexrea on Instagram) are constantly uplifting and advocating for BAME students and their needs; The Feminist Society held an on-campus protest about the lack of attention towards sexual predators who are still permitted to attend their education.
Everyone cares about something.
Find what you care about and help make a change.