By Celia Saboureau and Aysha Sarah
The LSE Students’ Union hosted two student meetings in November last month: first the student members’ meeting on 11 November, followed by a town hall on 18 November. Both events were dominated by the discussion of the LSESU Debate Society’s hosting of the Israeli ambassador to the UK, Tzipi Hotovely, and the protests that followed.
The student members’ meeting
Beginning with the student members’ meeting that took place on 11 November, students expressed concerns about the LSESU’s initial approval of the event.
A student explained that the SU “failed to inform the Palestinian Society, who had a one-day notice to grapple with the situation”. Whilst the student recognised that the LSESU Debate Society, as an organisation, had an obligation to uphold freedom of speech, they also pointed out that according to the LSE Code of Practice on Free Speech, free speech did not apply in the event of “unlawful activities” including the “expression of racial or religious hatred, or incitement to such hatred”.
Another concern was that students felt that there should have been more protection given to protesters, especially since the protests were characterised as violent and anti-Semitic in the media. This was part of the wider issue regarding the right to protest. A student voiced their unease with how political figures called for a police investigation and for the protesters to be put on a watchlist: “Students need certainty that the LSE will effectively protect their right to protest and defend them publicly”.
Another student mentioned that LSE and the SU’s response to the student protest was ironic since they “have always encouraged students to take initiative and make their voices heard”.
Responding to these concerns, LSESU General Secretary Josie Stephens apologised to those who felt unsafe and conceded that the one-day notice of the event’s approval was inadequate.
The General Secretary assured students that the SU would make sure that controversial events are known about in advance and that people involved be acknowledged beforehand. Although matters of controversial speakers go straight to the LSE administration, she agreed that the SU should have been more proactive in creating a safe space for all students. The SU had also obtained confirmation from LSE that students will not face any disciplinary action for exercising their right to peacefully protest.
The primary concern at the town hall, which took place on 18 November, was the kind of reform the SU would implement in light of the protest. After a week of processing students’ concerns, the sabbatical officers came with a defined course of action.
Drawing on feedback, they outlined three steps for the SU to work towards:
Lobbying LSE to issue a statement of support. Whilst LSE had confirmed that students would not be investigated, the sabbatical officers emphasised the need for LSE to publicly and explicitly assure the student body of their right to protest.
Looking into support mechanisms for students, working with organisations such as the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office and the Faith Centre to communicate with societies.
Meeting with the directorate and looking into the current SU policy of the processes on inviting controversial guests, based on concerns which were addressed in the student members’ meeting held the week prior.
The SU expressed understanding that they lacked a clear process towards such events, and thus needed to prioritise changing the administrative procedures for potentially controversial events to ensure student safety. The SU communicated that they wanted to implement a process where controversial events would be referred to the sabbatical officers before going to LSE to mitigate potential ramifications.
A student mentioned that whilst the sabbatical officers had outlined in their statement that students would have the opportunity to question the ambassador, the “ticketing system’’, where ticket sales were not openly advertised, and “the way in which the event was run by the chair” made doing so difficult.
In response to this, the sabbatical officers acknowledged the event’s shortcomings. They stated that a briefing had taken place with the chair but suggested more attention should have been given to how the event would be conducted.
Another student called for LSE ‘‘to set an honest stage’’, commenting on how the event was presented on social media. The consensus amongst the students present was that LSE is fearful of potential repercussions in the face of public opinion towards the event, especially regarding the government’s views on the protests and calls for an investigation.
The Beaver is awaiting comment from the sabbatical officers; due to ongoing staff strikes, this has been delayed.
by Neelam Shah / third-placed winner of the LSESU Poetry Society’s Summer Competition Hope One Day I hope one day there will be end to