Students occupy Victoria Rooms protesting Bristol University’s ‘complicity in genocide’

The group stated they intend to stay overnight until their demands are met

A student group has today (8th March) occupied the Victoria Rooms in an escalation of ongoing protests against the University of Bristol and its “complicity” in the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict.  

The students said that they intend to stay in the building until their demands are met, with a leaflet distributed to protesting students stating that “food/sleeping provisions” will be made available, as well as “well-being support”.

The sit-in began following a protest march around the university campus, which started at Senate House and continued until the group reached the Victoria Rooms building. As they marched, students chanted “UOB, shame on you” and “UOB you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide”.

The students listed their demands in an open letter, which has been circulated this week. These included demands that the university calls for an “immediate ceasefire” and cut ties with arms companies linked to the conflict in Gaza, as well as an end to the use of the controversial attendance check-in app, created by Israeli company Ex Libris.  

The action followed a meeting between the Friends of Palestine Society and the Vice-Chancellor, Evelyn Welch earlier this morning, which students deemed unsatisfactory. 

Speaking exclusively to The Bristol Tab, a spokesperson for the student group said:  The university hasn’t taken action in response to previous attempts at communication including open letters, emails, and walk-outs.

“We feel forced to take direct action in order to make the will of the student body known and ensure action from the university.”

One member of the crowd, speaking exclusively to The Bristol Tab, spoke of disappointment that more students hadn’t joined them on the march: “Considering how heavily the university is implicated in the history of colonialism, I think the fact that students come here and see it happening again before their eyes and they just don’t care, I think that’s disgusting.”

The student group also called into question the university’s commitment to decolonisation, a key initiative championed by the Vice Chancellor.

In the open letter, students said:  “The university’s stated commitment to reckon with its historic profiting from colonial and imperial projects cannot be taken seriously if the university still takes money from, and is an active collaborator with, companies that are partners in a regime of colonialism and apartheid.” 

Today’s action is the latest round of protests against the university over an ongoing controversy around its partnerships with arms companies, valued at £92 million according to figures from Demilitarise Education.  

Last year, students protested in Senate House, claiming that the University “handles blood money” and “profits from genocide.” It is an issue affecting universities across Britain, with protests also breaking out at the University of Edinburgh over “investment in Israeli arms.”  

It is not the first student protest group to attempt this form of action. In 2022, a group of students occupied the Great Hall in Wills Memorial Building in solidarity with the UCU’s staff strikes and engaged in negotiations before returning the building to management after 10 days.

A University of Bristol spokesperson said about the occupation: “We respect our students’ freedom of speech and right to protest. Our Vice-Chancellor is always happy to talk with students about their concerns, meeting with the Friends of Palestine Society just this morning.

“We recognise the distress and impact on all staff and students at the University of the ongoing violence and conflict in the Middle East.”It is more important than ever that we sustain our shared values of mutual respect, support, and compassion for each other, whatever our individual views on the conflict.

“We will continue to engage with the students occupying the Victoria Rooms to ensure their safety and those of others using the building.”

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