Opinion: Taking a learning space away from your peers isn’t the activism you think it is

As if we didn’t have enough online learning in the last few years, why not just add more to your peers’ workloads


Last week, a group of Edinburgh Uni students “reclaimed” Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre to “run a week of education for liberation” on various causes including anti-colonialism, climate change, justice for Palestine, and anti-monarchy to name a few.

They claimed to have taken the space in an effort to “build communities of resistance to stand against the… institutions at the root of global oppression.”

I could write hundreds of articles on these various topics and their importance. I really don’t disagree with the causes. However, there is no better way to make me side against you than screwing over your peers in the name of your own performative activism. Let me break it down:

Why the Gordon Aikman?

By taking over the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre, these students did not disrupt the capitalist, pro-monarchy, Zionist lectures. In fact, the majority of lectures that take place in this building actually belong to the social sciences, namely sociology, social anthropology, and politics – some of the most important classes in expanding one’s perspective and learning more about important global issues in a depth achieved best by institutions of higher education.

If they had actually wanted to disrupt the education they oppose, this lecture theatre would have been left alone in favour of disruptions in Appleton Tower, or wherever the business students receive their lectures.

Additionally, if the aim of this disruption was to offer “education for liberation”, could this not have been best achieved and most widely accessible through an online platform?

Instead, they limited themselves to just the students that felt compelled enough to enter and seek out the education they offered. The information they offered is thus not going to get the reach they aimed for, while a series of easily accessible and shareable Instagram or YouTube videos would have achieved this aim fabulously.

Forcing your fellow students to have online classes won’t gain you support

As someone who took a year out from school because of the global pandemic forcing most universities online, as well as seriously struggling last year with the online lectures that take about three times as long to complete, this year’s fully in-person curriculum has been a blessing.

In-person classes are far easier to focus in, and if they do go over the time limit, it’s never really an issue. Additionally, when a lecture is in-person, you tend to actually go.

By taking over this lecture theatre, this group of students demonstrated a clear disregard for the workloads of their peers, instead prioritizing their own personal (and poorly executed) aims, and likely doubling the amount of time spent watching these lectures for the students affected.

We’re already paying a ridiculous amount in tuition, without more disruption

And because I don’t complain about tuition enough – some of your peers are spending a lot of money on an education, either because they truly wanted to go to uni and get a degree, or because a degree offers a lot more stability in one’s life and career.

Maybe they’re here for other reasons, too. But either way, your fellow students are paying, and going into lots of debt, for their education, and by taking away a space of learning from them, this resistance group has negatively impacted the studies of their peers.

When this same group took over the lecture theatre in March, most classes were still online, and thus their protest was not an enormous disruption to their fellow peers.

Some final thoughts

Again, I don’t disagree with the causes this group supports. But execution is crucial in activism, and I must ask: was this really the most effective way of going about it?

Because to be honest, from an outsider perspective it does just seem like a group of students “decolonizing” a space by… taking and declaring the space for themselves.

Protests are important. Young, marginalized voices need more platforms. Palestinians, people from formerly colonized countries, and those from areas experiencing climate change need to be heard. But the lecture theatre for progressive, social science education is not the place to target.

The Staff-Student Solidarity Network Edinburgh declined to comment on this story. 


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