Jesus students threatened with eviction for displaying ‘any poster, flag or banner’

The former President of the Jesus College Student Union hopes that the College ‘reconsiders the policy’

Several students at Jesus College received an email yesterday (20/04) asking them to remove “any poster, flag or banner [displayed] internally or externally” from their College property. This includes posters relating to any political parties, Pride flags, and divestment posters from Jesus College Climate Justice Campaign (JCCJC). 

According to the email, if students do not remove the posters, flags or banners, they could face eviction.

The email read: “As you are aware it is a breach of the terms of your Licence agreement to display any poster, flag or banner internally or externally from the Property.

“The College will take further action if you fail to put right the breach, which could ultimately result in the Licence agreement being terminated in line with Clause 6.1.”

This follows a previous email on 19th March from the Domestic Bursar which had given students a deadline of 24th March to remove the posters.

Aurelio Petrucci, former President of the Jesus College Students’ Union (JCSU), criticised the move for adding to “the stress and anxiety students are already feeling about the pandemic and their exams by threatening to evict students for exercising their basic right to self expression.” He hopes that Jesus College “reconsiders the policy and apologises for the needless hurt they have caused.”

The JCCJC said that because students are “locked out of the key College committee where its investment policy is decided, divestment posters are just one completely harmless way students are trying urgently to make their voices heard on one of the most important issues of our time.” The JCCJC also called the decision “unnecessary” given the College “has already said it will be reviewing the needlessly restrictive license agreement anyway.”

A report from the JCCJC released today (21/04) revealed that Jesus College invests a minimum of £5.15 million in what the campaign describe as “global exploiters and polluters”, including fossil fuel companies and other major polluting sectors.

With regards to the College’s flag flying policy, a spokesperson for JCSU said: “The Jesus College Student Union (JCSU) has been involved in discussions with the College about this issue since it first arose in February. We have consistently put forward the view that students should be able to express themselves freely by putting banners, posters or flags inside of their window.”

“Our initial efforts led to a compromise, whereby the College waived the ban on flags during LGBTQ+ History Month in February. During this time, it was wonderful to see students flying flags in a sign of solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. We received numerous compliments from members of the public, as well as members of the University, and it would be wonderful to see such a display of self-expression all year round.”

“When it became clear that the College were going to require all banners, posters and flags to be removed, we strongly stated our opposition to threatening students with the termination of their licence agreement.”

They added: “The JCSU successfully campaigned for a working party to formally look at changing the licence agreement to allow flags, banners and posters inside windows. The working party has met several times and a consultation is now being prepared. The JCSU intends to work closely with the College, taking an active role in the consultation to work towards a positive outcome for all parties involved, with the aim of facilitating a change in the licence agreement for the start of the next academic year.”

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Jesus College said: “The rules on displaying any flags, banners or posters are a long-standing clause in our license agreement. We have asked that everyone living in College accommodation abides by the agreement they signed. We encourage all community members to express themselves and their views, as long as it doesn’t break their license agreement or the law. We have informed students that we will run an in-depth consultation this term with students, Fellows and staff about the most inventive and creative ways to enable this in College for the benefit of the whole community.”

They continued: “In the meantime, we have asked that anyone living in College accommodation remove any displayed flag, banner or poster. We contacted all students twice about this in March; we are now contacting the few students who have not yet followed our request, or let us know that they are not in Cambridge at present, to remind them of their license agreement terms.”

Jesus College faced backlash from students in March when the Head Porter asked students to remove “all flags and banners” from windows and walls at the end of LGBT+ History Month. While the College said that it was “very supportive of LGBT+ History Month and other LGBT+ events and initiatives throughout the year”, the JCSU LGBT+ Officer at the time described the College’s actions as “disrespectful and flippant.”

An email to students from the College responding to their “appearances in the media” due to this issue said: “Firstly, some of you may have received an email recently reminding you of the license agreement rule about displaying flags, banners or posters in your property. For clarity, I’d like to reiterate that the rule applies to all flags, banners and posters.

“This year, LGBT+ History Month took place during a national lockdown. We agreed in conjunction with our student unions to temporarily waive the relevant section of the room license agreement and allow flags, which people were beginning to put up, to be flown from student windows for the entire month of February. The agreement was that they would be flown for that month only, and so at the end of the month the Head Porter reminded students that all flags and banners should be taken down.”

The email continued: “The focus of this rule is on things visible from the outside, in particular posters in windows and flags hanging from the facades of buildings, which change our external historic environment.

“We are so fortunate at Jesus to have beautiful buildings and grounds; they attract students and academic from all over the globe. Permanently changing our rules on flying flags raises questions about how many is too many, and at what point this disturbs the historic environment that people love so much.

“Such a potentially fundamental change in our historic environment demands that all students, Fellows and staff have their say in a proper consultation. We encourage all community members to express themselves and their views, as long as it doesn’t break their license agreement or the law. We will run the consultation this term about the most inventive and creative ways to enable this in College for the benefit of the whole community. The consultation will begin when everyone adheres to the rules.”

Queens’ College also faced controversy in Michaelmas Term after asking students to take down trans and Pride flags displayed from students’ windows. In an email to students on 20th November, the College said that this was because they have “a legal obligation not to engage in political activity and to preserve freedom of expression for all.” The email added that “the flying of flags generates strong feelings and we receive complaints from the public as well as members of college about our custodianship of historic buildings.”

Feature image credit: Jesusgreen, Creative Commons License 

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