Dear Sussex University,
We are squatting the Park Village Social Centre, and we are demanding change.
The West Slope development represents a major failure in everything that Sussex ostensibly (and fraudulently) stands for: inclusivity, sustainability and radical thinking. We, as students, are not only ashamed of this neoliberal development on our campus, but outraged that it should be done in our name, with our money, and by the institution that we have chosen to be a part of precisely because of these alleged traits.
As proud students of Sussex we, at least, remain dedicated to these principles.
NO to gentrification!
NO to greenwashing!
NO to the neoliberal university!
NO to gentrification.
The West Slope development which will destroy Park Village - previously by far the most affordable accommodation on campus, and replace it with 'luxury' housing that only the most financially privileged students will be able to access sends a clear message to those in financially precarious situations: you are not welcome at Sussex. Already this year, we know of people making the choice not to come to Sussex as they were unable to pay the £116-£124/week demanded by Norwich House and Lewes Court. Had there been a £95/week option, as offered by Park Village, perhaps we would have had a far more diverse and inclusive community on campus this year.
This development follows the contested redevelopment of East Slope only 4 years ago, which once again saw the destruction of Sussex campus' most affordable accommodation, in order to erect that which was double the price - now £176.45/week. Let us remind you here how outraged students in 2018 fought the East Slope redevelopment, culminating in an occupation of the construction site which cost Balfour Beatty over half a million pounds. What makes you think we aren't willing to go even further this time?
We will not stand by and allow those who cannot afford luxury accommodation to be priced out of Sussex; we believe education at Sussex should be open to all, regardless of financial background.
NO to greenwashing.
In 2019, Sussex University declared a climate emergency. Evidently however, the university does not grasp the magnitude of the word 'emergency', and thinks that a few sustainability councils and solar panels will patch the gaping wound that is climate catastrophe. Whilst framing itself as environmentally-conscious, Sussex university's actions and developments instead wreak havoc on the local ecosystems.
The decision to demolish over 100 buildings and turn half of campus into a construction site rather than retrofitting already-existing accommodation; the decision to kill 93 mature trees, along with Roots - the permaculture garden which hosts the most biodiverse site on the whole campus; the decision to then label all of this as a green project is not only totally unfounded, but is completely infuriating and wholly depressing.
And just to add salt to the wound, the university has chosen to award this >£200million contract to Balfour Beatty! Balfour Beatty are a mega-company who have consistently profited from ecocidal projects worldwide - notably dams in Africa and Asia, as well as HS2 - the £200billion megaproject which is currently tearing through the UK countryside, destroying 108 ancient woodlands and causing the most deforestation in this country since the second world war. The fictitious notion that Sussex University is in any way environmentally conscious having chosen to work with this infamously ecocidal company is rendered entirely redundant by this decision.
We want Balfour Beatty off our campus; we want the university to act in a genuinely sustainable way during this era of climate emergency, without greenwashing to cover their profit-motives.
NO to the neoliberal university.
The West Slope development follows in the recent trend of neoliberal tendencies within Sussex university, and the Higher Education system in general, which has left lecturers on unstable contracts, has led to the outsourcing of jobs on campus, and has systematically crushed the emergence of more radical views within academia. As students of Sussex we reject the neoliberalisation of the university institution.
Following this, we reject the privatisation of our campus. As with East Slope, where Sussex leased this whole area to Balfour Beatty for 50 years, meaning that it is now Sussex who pays rent to Balfour Beatty in order to use this accommodation and rent it out to students, the same will happen with West Slope. This means it is Balfour Beatty will decide how much our rent costs, and under what conditions we have access to our own campus. Moreover, East Slope has experienced an obscene amount of maintenance issues due to the poor quality of the building which is designed for quick profit, not made to last. Why have we sold off the rights to our own university? How much of Sussex campus will be privatised before we begin to say NO?
We are sick of the neoliberalisation of our education; we are sick of the university making commitments to sustainability which go ignored; we are sick of having such little say in the future of our campus.
And so we make these demands:
THAT 1/3 accommodation on Sussex campus be kept below £100/week rent.
THAT Sussex will never again sign contracts with Balfour Beatty.
THAT there will be a student assembly on all future developments on campus.
THAT none of the 93 trees be cut down as part of the West Slope development, and that the original Roots site remain undamaged.
THAT there will be no negative repercussions for any student involved in this occupation.
Whilst the UK government has declared a Cost of Living Crisis, Sussex University continues to funnel student funds towards luxury redevelopments which will benefit only the rich, whilst most of us can't even afford a meal on campus. Meanwhile, overworked lecturers are once again considering striking for better pensions and more stable contracts. £9,250 every year in fees (£19,050 for international students), and little say in where this money is spent. We are demanding change, and we are demanding it now.
So we have begun creating the university that we want to see, exploring our own ways of learning from and educating each other in the squatted Park Village Social Centre. We are hosting daily workshops providing insight into the key crises that young people are facing today, filling the gaping holes in the Universities’ alternative and radical education provision. We are hosting events where students can come together in joyful community to combat the alienation and isolation that dominates contemporary society. We are not only calling out the University on its failings, we are coherently and clearly demonstrating what the solutions look like.
We intend to continue rebuilding and reclaiming this university from the bottom up, until our demands are met and a better path for Sussex University, decided by its students, staff and workers is chosen.
The discontented students of Squat The Slope!