Pinned down for protest – Sheffield students continue building occupation stand-off against rent payments and sexual violence claims

Written by Izzie Pridmore

Forced to the ground for occupying a university building last week, three Sheffield Hallam undergraduates have refused to abandon their indoor protest.

They are demanding students receive a rent rebate for their second term and that sexual violence allegations are taken seriously by the university.

Part of a wider collective named Sheffield Hallam Uni Rent Strike Group, the steadfast occupiers also outlined how security staff in university housing had allegedly committed verbally sexual misconduct against three different students.

“On two separate occasions at the same accommodation, two different girls have gone to security to complain about an incident, and they’ve been told that’s what they get for being pretty,” said one occupier, 20, who wished to remain anonymous for concern of the university’s retaliation to the occupation.

“There’s also one other person who was catcalled by security who said ‘That’s a nice outfit, it would look better on my bedroom floor,'” the Politics student added.

A member of the SHU Rent Strike Group set up in December 2020, the undergraduate revealed how the group’s WhatsApp chat had enabled students to vocalise their bad experiences.

Of the three undergraduates who secured Hallam’s Cantor building with bike locks at 6pm last Thursday, the Politics student and another male first year were charged at and forced to the floor by security staff as they managed to regain entry.

“They came at us, threw us to the floor and pinned us down, which is assault because they’re security guards, they’re not allowed to do that” said the Politics undergraduate who is visibly held to the ground in the video above.

The second male undergraduate, a 19-year-old Geography student, said: “I was kind of scared, I mean the security guard was almost twice my size and he was charging at me, so I had to run pretty much.”

Requiring an eviction notice and court injunction, security and university staff were unable to forcibly remove the students from the premises.

The third student, an 18-year-old Philosophy undergraduate who filmed the incident said: “I saw that they had tackled the others and so I just pulled my phone out and started recording and asking them to stop. It was stressful, it was scary.”

The footage has now reached more than 21,000 views on Twitter, leading to support from Sheffield councillors and members of the Green Party.

Labour Cllr Ben Miskell said: “The video was particularly shocking and it’s not acceptable to restrain students who are protesting. Given the public nature of the footage and how highly charged the debate about the misuse of restraint techniques is, I think it’s important that the university publish the outcomes of its investigation.”

Commenting on the students’ demand for an end to sexual violence in their university, the councillor added: “The killing of Sarah Everard and the Everyone’s Invited website has really shone a light on rape culture. Universities and schools have to do more to combat it and men like me have to call out the behaviour of other men. It’s great to see people speaking out. It’s important that we support those in society prepared to take a stand, that’s why I’m backing the demands of those students occupying Sheffield Hallam’s Cantor building at the moment.”

In a press statement, Sheffield Hallam University said it was investigating the incident between the student protesters and security officers.

A University spokesperson said: “We want to support students who are understandably concerned about paying for accommodation they may not be able to use during the pandemic, so are working closely with accommodation providers to try and ensure that tenancy agreements reflect the current circumstances.

“The University has a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment and violence. Our Report and Support system is in place for both students and staff, who can choose to report anonymously if they wish. We also have a range of support services run by experienced staff at the University, who can provide advice and support for our students whenever needed. We are committed to working with other universities across the sector to ensure that universities are safe places for all.”

 

Written by Izzie Pridmore

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