A complete rundown of everything that’s happened with the Esther Simpson occupation so far
They have also begun a second occupation inside the Ziff building
It’s been over a week since Student Rebellion took over the Esther Simpson lecture theatre in protest of the university’s ties to fossil fuel companies.
The students participating are refusing to end their occupation until the university “update its policy on responsible investment to include a ban on investments in oil, gas, coal and mining companies”.
Lots has happened since the occupation began on Monday 7th November. Here’s a complete rundown of everything that has happened and is still happening to bring you up to speed.
Monday 7th November
A group of Leeds University students part of Student Rebellion entered the Esther Simpson lecture theatre at approximately 9am to “demand the institution cuts all ties to fossil fuels” and said they would not leave the Esther Simpson Lecture Theatre until their demands were met. They included:
- Update the University of Leeds’ policy on Responsible Investment to include a ban on investments in oil, gas, coal and mining companies
- Create and implement an Ethical Careers Policy that commits to a ban on oil, gas, coal and mining companies from recruiting through the University, which includes attending careers fairs, and advertising recruitment opportunities or role vacancies
- Refuse all funding from oil, gas, coal and mining companies
Shelly, a third year student and one of the occupiers told The Tab: “I’m occupying because the university talks about climate action, but when it comes down to it, they aren’t doing enough and they aren’t doing it fast enough. The solutions need to be just and we cannot do that with fossil fuel money.”
To read a full breakdown of the events that day, you can read about it here
Tuesday 8th November
On Tuesday, Leeds University spoke publicly for the first time about the occupation. A spokesperson for the University of Leeds highlighted the University’s Climate Plan which “sets out the university’s targets, actions and investments to achieving net zero by 2030”
“The scope of the plan covers The scope of the plan covers our teaching and research and operational activities, and our staff and student community have been involved in its development and have key roles in its implementation,” they said.
“In line with our Climate Plan, we are reorienting our research and teaching away from the fossil fuel sector. We continue to work with energy companies when the work aims to reduce carbon emissions or accelerate the transition to a low carbon future.
“Since 2019, our Climate Active investment strategy means we have had no investments in any company whose primary business is the extraction of fossil fuel, or which derives significant revenue from such extraction.”
Meanwhile, Student Rebellion who have successfully spent their first night within the lecture theatre encourage other students to join the movement.
On social media, they announce their schedule for the day which includes “Quaker-Style space for reflection”, lectures on “anarchism and resistance to colonialism in Portugal” and discussions involving “drafting a group response to the University’s climate plan”.
Wednesday 9th November
On social media, Student Rebellion alleged they were served with legal papers by the university secretary, requiring them to vacate the premises immediately and to stop hosting events within the lecture theatre.
In an Instagram post Student Rebellion wrote: “Earlier today, the students occupying the Esther Simpson building received a letter threatening legal action if the occupation continues. This threat comes without any response, statement or opportunity for conversation with the Vice Chancellor or Leeds University senior management.”
An excerpt from the letter shared on their Instagram, dated 9th November and signed by the university secretary, reads: “Your access, use and occupation of the Premises, along with any other areas of the University campus for the activities you are carrying out are unlawful and constitute a trespass.
“Your activities also constitute a clearly unreasonable means of exercising your protest in circumstances where it is open to you to protest in any number of ways that do not interfere with and disrupt other users of the University’s campus or constitute a trespass.
“In these circumstances you are required to:
- Vacate the Premises immediately; and
- Desist from entering and remaining on any other areas and buildings on the University’s campus for the purpose of protest and the activities you are presently carrying out included but not limited to:
- Blocking the stairs leading to other parts of the Esther Simpson Building
- Chaining and padlocking fire exits on the LG08 Lecture Theatre and anywhere else within the Esther Simpson Building
- Hosting events in the LG08 Lecture Theatre and inviting other people to attend them.
- Disrupting other users of the University’s campus”
A spokesperson for Leeds University said: “While we are unable to provide a running commentary on the situation, we are mindful of the impact the occupation is having on those of our students whose studies have been negatively impacted by the actions of a small group.
“The University of Leeds has taken a robust approach to tackling climate change, with a Climate Plan that sets out our targets, actions and investments to achieving net zero by 2030. We are proud of our efforts to lead global action and will continue working collaboratively with our staff and students to make a real difference.”
Thursday 9th November
Student Rebellion share another group letter, addressed to the Vice-Chancellor, on Instagram. Their response to the university’s letter said: “The fact that this university has immediately decided to take the issue to court, rather than listen and respond to students’ concerns, is indicative of wider disconnect at this university which is felt at every level of the staff and student”
The letter ended with two questions for the university:
- “Why has the University rescinded its permission for us to occupy until Friday?”
- “Why is the University unwilling to speak to us?”
In another social media post, Student Rebellion alleged they had been stopped by the university from speaking to the press.
“Despite having press ID and willing to interview us in an open space in front of security, we are being prevented from talking to Leeds Student Radio.”
They also wrote that there was “increased increased 24/7 security guards at all entrances, limits on who can go to the toilet and when, white lights on throughout the night and waking us up to do a head count.”
Student Rebellion also urged other students to show their support of the occupiers by attending a rally the following day.
Thursday 10th November
Student Rebellion organised a rally by the “Wavy Bacon” statue in support of the occupation. Cries of “you can shove your court order up your ar*e” could be heard.
The rally included several powerful speeches, chants and cries of support for the occupiers.
Friday 11th November
A second occupation begins inside the Ziff building with still no response from the Vice-Chancellor. In an Instagram post, the occupiers of the Ziff building said: “With less than 24 hours’ notice, us six friends managed to go and occupy the floor of university management offices to fill the deafening silence they have cried. If we managed it, so can you. Grab some friends and some sleeping bags, take a building and bring the conversation to them! Even just doing one night is pressure on the uni”
Inside the lecture theatre, Student Rebellion told The Leeds Tab whilst their primary goal was “to get their demands met and to get students “in an active role against destructive policies like the University’s”, the implicit benefits of the occupation have included “forming a lovely little community of people who want to take further action and make this a sustained campaign”.
Monday 14th November
On day seven of the occupation, Student Rebellion claimed they were still to hear from the Vice-Chancellor. However, the Dean of the Business School had voiced support of their concerns.
In an email addressed to staff, Julia Bennell acknowledged the “inconvenience the occupation has caused”, however maintained: “I believe we must recognise this as a genuine and legitimate cry for help.
“The predictions on climate change are rapidly turning to clear evidence of global warming and its impact, and our students are the generation that will have to live with and manage the life changing consequences.”
Tuesday 15th November
Just over a week since they began their occupation, Student Rebellion share a letter from Leeds University VC Simone Buitendijk. In it she wrote: “We will not consider entering discussions with you while you continue to occupy the building, disrupting the education of University of Leeds students and other University operations”
She also stated that the University Climate Plan “sets out [their] targets, actions and investments to achieve net zero by 2030 and is the single biggest investment [they] have ever made: £174 million over the next decade”
Student Rebellion responded, saying they “will remain in place until a sincere discussion path can be opened” with the VC. They also acknowledged the disruption they have caused and reaffirmed their invitation to meet with her.
An occupier, named as Tom, said: “In 2019, the UK government recognised that the climate crisis is not an emergency, but our social institutions are not acting accordingly. I don’t want to be missing my university work to sit in a lecture theatre and disrupt other students, but I am so tired of hearing the people that run these institutions promising change and not doing anything about it. We need to act much faster.
“If they understood the gravity of the situation, they would not be working with companies that fuel the crisis and knowingly mislead the public. I am terrified about the future that the IPCC reports are predicting, so I feel a duty to take action.”
On their social media, Student Rebellion continue to organise events including a “collaborative art space” where students can participate in “creating banners, posters and other forms of expression on suppression of student voice by the University”.
They also encouraged people to join their second rally on Wednesday for “speeches, question time and a petition to the Vice-Chancellor”
Wednesday 16th November
Student Rebellion hosted their second rally outside the Wavy Bacon statue. In their rally, they expressed how their occupation “is so much more than carbon and also about people and their relationships with each other”.
Student Rebellion shared a 42-minute video of their rally featuring all the speeches and discussions which you can watch here.
The Student Rebellion occupation continues.
Leeds University has been approached for comment.