The Exeter University occupation stands in full solidarity with Sanaz Raji, a PhD student who since 2011 has faced an ongoing battle with the University of Leeds, having had her scholarship wrongfully revoked by the ICS (Institute of Communications Studies).
On August 15th 2011, Raji found her scholarship to be revoked without prior notice, two weeks before the start of the 2011-2012 academic year, leaving her with a steep £13,000 tuition fee and no means to continue her education. The University of Leeds have failed to provide an adequate reason for rescinding her scholarship, and her treatment by the ICS has consistently contravened the rules and regulations stated in the University of Leeds Research Student Handbook. The aggressions against Raji precede the loss of her scholarship, and include denial of sick leave following a physical injury and the inappropriate questioning of her first language, which was asked of no other PhD student and which we therefore believe was part of a conscious effort to unnerve Raji by exploiting her Iranian ethnicity.
The removal of her scholarship not only prevents Raji from continuing her studies but also from having a decent standard of living with the food, comfort and shelter that all students demand as a human right, regardless of nationality or race. She faces eviction from her flat and the revocation of her visa status, and has faced legal harassment from the university, who have attempted to stifle further protest with the threat of an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order). We the undersigned believe that Raji is a victim of harassment by the ICS, who have attempted to undermine her confidence in resisting the illegal action facing her with racial abuse in the form of condescension and intimidation.
Raji has had little active support from organisations that purport to defend all students, regardless of social status or background. She has had minimal response from her local student union and from the NUS, while the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have accused Raji of abusive behaviour when after much delay and frustration, she repeatedly requested a letter to be drafted by the committee leadership and sent to the Home Office. While she has received solidarity from grassroots campaigners and friends from much of the UK, she has little access to legal aid primarily due to government cutbacks and her own legal status as a temporary resident.
There is no justification for the abuse inflicted upon Sanaz and others in similar situations. Not only are such incidents an attack on her human rights, we believe that there is no economic rationale for any such sanctions on students, including the introduction of tuition fees and the subsequent loanbook privatisation.
We firmly believe that Raji is the latest victim of a wave of increased marketisation of campus life, with policy enacted not to benefit students but to rob us of our living standards, our agency, our quality of education, our transparency and our very right to study. We commend Raji on her resolve, and recognise that she and others in similar situations, particularly students that are part of a minority and are thus at risk of marginalisation, cannot be left to stand alone.
As such, with Raji’s case as a lightning rod, we call for:
* Universities UK to condemn the ill-treatment of Sanaz Raji during and since her time spent at the ICS.
* The NUS and its International Student caucus to launch further campaign action to combat the systemic ill-treatment of students, particularly those that are POC (people of colour).
* A pledge by all student campaign bodies to actively maintain a safe space for the international students they are mandated to represent, both locally and nationally.
* Teaching and university staff union bodies including the UCU and Unite to maintain a dialogue with student activists working to resist attacks towards staff and students.
* The reinstatement of Sanaz Raji and the scholarship to which she is entitled, the fulfilment of all her prior noted complaints, the withdrawal of her eviction notice and all legal action towards her, a full public apology to Raji in the university’s published media and nationally circulated printed newpapers, and an investigation into the conduct towards Raji and all previous international student alumni. Additionally, we call for a reform of the appeals procedure to prevent future incidents.
* All students of both UK-born and international status to publicly raise incidents they have experienced similar to Sanaz’s, and to call upon their local representative bodies and campaign groups to actively support them and show solidarity in times of crisis. Additionally, we call for the establishing of networks of radical students and staff to combat threats against international students.
For more information we ask that you join the Justice 4 Sanaz group: (https://www.facebook.com/groups/468135473264681/)
Alternatively, if you do not have Facebook, more information can be obtained from the Change.org petition: (https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/vice-chancellor-university-of-leeds-stop-treating-international-students-like-2nd-class-citizens-2/)