A statement from your LUU Exec on the right to freedom of expression

You might be aware that student protestors have been setting up camps at universities across the country, and globally, to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. A camp has been in place opposite the LUU building, by Beech Grove House, since Wednesday 1 May, which has attracted support as well as counter protests from our student community and beyond.

As your Student Exec, we completely support all students’ right to free speech and to lead important discussions. We encourage you to engage in student action, and have discussions around this issue respectfully. We know that this can be very challenging, but it is important to be mindful of how some views might impact others mentally and emotionally.

Why are they happening?
Over the last several months, the campus has seen protests, vigils, and occupations, and now an encampment across from LUU. Leeds students have been actively participating in their right to freedom of expression due to the immense suffering occurring in Palestine and Israel. Tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, families and homes, and it’s important to remember that many students here in Leeds are struggling as a direct impact of this. We must be mindful, understanding and empathetic towards one another as indescribable pain, grief, trauma and fear has impacted many in our student community in different ways. We are truly grieving alongside you.

What have we been doing?
Throughout this academic year, our team has been actively involved in relaying the diverse thoughts, feelings and opinions of our students to the university. Some students may not be aware of the number of meetings and conversations that have been had between ourselves, individual students, student groups, LUU staff, and university staff since October.

We have been acutely aware of how polarising these conversations can be, and have worked to accurately represent all of our students and ensure discussions are handled with care and sensitivity for the wellbeing of the students closely involved. Through our students voicing their concerns, we have identified three priority areas: industry and academic partnerships, chaplaincy functions, and freedom of speech, wellbeing, and community. As our entire team will be leaving at the end of June, we hope to set up official and ongoing working groups, which will ensure accountability of LUU staff, university staff, and the incoming elected Student Exec Team. We think it’s especially important that the university keep students informed on the developments of these areas of work and welcome active participation.

Our shared responsibility to create a safe environment
We support our student community in sharing, debating and challenging views and positions on a range of topics, and are committed to ensuring students can do this in ways that are safe, secure and effective. We also have a responsibility to maintain a safe and welcoming environment for all students and visitors. We recognise that not everybody feels safe on campus at the moment, but we want to work together to address this. Please continue to raise your concerns to us, our Advice team, or to the university’s Harassment and Misconduct team.

Hate speech and discrimination
We have been deeply concerned by increased reports of antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus over the last few months. Conflicts in the Middle East affect a diverse range of people, and often have a direct impact specifically on Jewish and Muslim communities. Antisemitism and Islamophobia affect these communities in very different ways, and need to be addressed specifically. We have been engaging with relevant societies throughout this period to address these communities’ specific concerns and needs, and have, for example, set up a working group on Islamophobia, and support sessions for Jewish students in safe spaces.

Opposing viewpoints are acknowledged, but any form of hate speech or discrimination of any kind is absolutely unacceptable. We urge any instances of these to be reported via the university’s Harassment and Misconduct team, who can also signpost you to external services if you wish to seek support beyond campus. You can also submit a report anonymously.

Using our facilities
We are committed to supporting the rights of all of our students to peacefully protest, and we want to remind you that all students have access to amenities at LUU. We have showers downstairs in LUU, across from the internal entrance to Old Bar. Hot water and microwaves can be accessed downstairs in the Student Kitchen, near Common Ground, and free period products are available from the Advice office or on the first floor outside the Student Exec office.

LUU’s Advice service is open 9-5 on weekdays should you need any advice on academic concerns, your mental health, your legal rights as a protester, and more. Our staff members are also visiting the camp every day to offer guidance and support. Please do not hesitate to approach our Helpdesk or one of us if we can support you with additional needs. As LUU is independent of the University, you can be assured that the advice and support you receive is impartial and confidential. Any LUU club or society is also able to organise protests and vigils through our Activities Team, who have resources and procedures in place to ensure the safety for all involved.

We know it is exceptionally difficult to navigate opposing views whilst protecting yourself and your own wellbeing and promoting your own views. We are here to support all students who are scared, grieving, and struggling due to the crisis, and we will always defend your right to freedom of expression.

Bethan, Ella, Emily, Hannah, Haryati, and Rimsha
(LUU Student Exec Team 2023/24)