At a time of heightened racism, in the UK and globally, King’s College London (KCL) – an institute of higher education which claims to perpetuate values of justice and freedom – has decided to actively enforce a policy of racial and political profiling.
On 19 March 2019, at least ten politically active KCL students were blocked from entering the university during a visit by the queen to open the new Bush House facility. The ban included all campuses, libraries and cafes and prevented students from attending exams, work shifts, classes and assessed presentations as normal. Vague justifications offered by security management suggested that the Metropolitan police had advised the university to ban all students that could be considered a ‘security threat’. The list of names had also allegedly been passed onto the Met.
We were among the students considered to be pose such a ‘threat’. Each one of us has been heavily involved with the KCL Action Palestine and KCL Justice for Cleaners campaigns.
While we are outraged by the overt political and racial profiling, we are by no means surprised. Despite KCL management suggesting otherwise, the decision to selectively exclude students is not exceptional but rather shockingly ordinary. In particular, students advocating for Palestinian human rights have been repeatedly and indiscriminately targeted by the Prevent duty at KCL. Earlier this month, the university recommended that KCL Israel Society selectively exclude students using a system of racial profiling which targeted those who were regarded as having traditional Muslim or ‘Arab’ names.
The atmosphere of suspicion surrounding Muslim students cultivated by such actions has normalised Islamophobia to the extent that it has become accepted by the Muslim community as an unavoidable fact of university life. The university’s total disregard of the implications of their actions on our lives, is eerily reminiscent of the shallow discourse regarding anti-Muslim sentiment that exists within wider British society. Our campuses are microcosms of the nation’s approach to marginalised groups, with universities acting as glorified Petri dishes in which to test policy and approach. The interconnected nature of this vilification and oppression was demonstrated through the fact that KCL security cooperated with the police not even considering the risk to students’ safety this might pose, particularly to the PoC and transgender students whose names they passed onto to the police.
This is not the first instance of increased securitisation at KCL. Card readers at campus entrances have been installed, security and police presence has increased and student emails are monitored. All this has helped to shift universities from places of open learning towards privatised and elite businesses responsible for producing the next generation of capitalists. Universities were never particularly inclusive, the possibility of a free, accessible and democratic education has never felt further away.
And what’s more, now, the very security system proclaimed to protect the students inside is instead being used to root out and wall-off those who are perceived to be a ‘threat’. The Prevent programme, and other surveillance measures, identify those within who question how things are running. On campus, there is a hostile environment which makes life harder for anyone who attempts to challenge the authority of the university. It is worth noting that the majority of students affected are black and brown Muslim women, despite university principal Ed Byrne’s recent claim that he had “eradicated Islamophobia on campuses”.
A capitalist project.
And yet KCL has the audacity to proclaim itself an institution of free speech. In 2018, principal Byrne emailed the KCL community, writing, “We all have a responsibility as part of this community to make sure debate and protest is conducted in a peaceful and constructive way on King’s campuses”. Byrne’s words reek of hypocrisy; apparently his method of ensuring such debate on campuses is to shut out any oppositional voices to the institution, even if they’re just looking to attend classes and exams.
Free speech is not a value but a political tool; in reality we all have a limit to what we can tolerate being said. For us, it is transphobes, colonels and fascists speaking on campus. For KCL, it is those who advocate for workers rights, Palestinians and social justice.
And that’s because at its core, this is about money. The rapid marketisation of universities, slashing of student services for the sake of grander properties and increasingly exploitative labour practices used on cleaners and academics alike are all symptoms of capitalism’s grip on education. Universities will make links with anyone, be it developers of military technology or vampiric corporations, for the sake of a more comfortable retirement for their senior staff. Following the logic of the capitalism, universities like KCL are not failing but succeeding in fulfilling their function as a capitalist project.
And it for this very reason that we will keep organising, buoyed by the outpouring of solidarity we have received. With less than 24 hours notice, 200 students and staff mobilised for a protest rally. We have also received overwhelming support from KCL staff, students and beyond.
The KCL Action Palestine and Justice for Cleaners campaigns will not be silenced or intimidated by our university. We will continue calling for the end to links with violent institutions and improving workers conditions . will continue holding the university to account on these issues, as well as fighting for a society where education is a right for all.
And for what it’s worth, the Queen, and all the royal family, are welcome to return to KCL at any time – as long as it’s to announce the abolition of the monarchy.