Since 2pm on Wednesday, the Front Quad of St. John’s college has been occupied by University students, protesting the College’s investment of around £8.1 million in fossil fuels companies – including BP and Shell.
Yesterday evening, I was able to gain access to the college, and spent time with the students demonstrating on the Quad, talking with them about their experiences so far and their plans for the coming days – if not weeks.
First speaking to XR protestors outside the front college gates, heightened security was evident: it appeared that the entry Bod card scanner had been deactivated, meaning that the front college gates remained closed for minutes at a time – a number of John’s students had to wait outside before eventually being let in after banging on the gate, subsequently showing their Bod cards to enter. Multiple porters made their rounds and were also stood at the entrance to college as well as the internal doorways into the Front Quad itself.
The feeling having entered into the First Quad, however, was one of surprising freedom and purposeful joviality; when I arrived, I was amused to find that many of the students were busy typing away on their laptops, rather causal despite the contextual security measures. Making notes or finishing essays for tutorials the following day, someone joked that “work carries on”. Wrapped in blankets, people introduced themselves to me, and I met many of the original students who had been on the Quad since 2pm on Wednesday afternoon – some of whom intended to remain for the foreseeable future, or until a solution might be met with college officials.
The feeling having entered into the First Quad, however, was one of surprising freedom and purposeful joviality.
The camp was surprisingly organised, with three large tents containing the students’ personal items and sleeping provisions; I was shown around one of these tents, designated for those on the ‘night shift’ – I’m told that they try and have at least two students awake throughout the night, so as to ensure the safety of all those camping out.
Tables were set-up with supplies brought in by students, with an upbeat surrounding social scene in which protestors chatted with their friends who had come to visit, bringing snacks from the nearby Tesco, and drinks to keep them going throughout another night. Music played, people ate, and countless devices kept those on the inside in touch with those offering support on the outside.
Music played, people ate, and countless devices kept those on the inside in touch with those offering support on the outside.
Many St. John’s students came out to show their support throughout, with lots bringing supplies – including water, juice and hand-made cakes. From speaking with those on Quad, it was evident that the response from fellow students has been resoundingly positive: those with access to hot water were doing runs between Quad and the kitchens, offering tea for the others outside.
While the non-student XR protestors were kept outside the college’s front gates (which are just visible in the picture below), they regularly whooped, whistled and cheered so as to encourage the students sitting-out on the inside: this was eagerly reciprocated.
It was alleged by students I spoke to that film crews from the mainstream media had requested to gain access to the college to film the events on Quad, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
There was undoubtedly an air of determination inside, with the first successful overnight stay clearly encouraging students to hold tight for the while. Everyone I spoke to conveyed their resolve to stay motivated and continue on for the coming days.
Nevertheless, there remained a strange atmosphere: constantly overlooked by porters at the multiple exits surrounding the Quad, there is very much a sense that the students are being overlooked and continually monitored.
Constantly overlooked by porters at the multiple exits surrounding the Quad, there is very much a sense that the students are being overlooked.
A statement from the students inside the camp reads: “We are here to help. All of us have brought reading because we need to keep up our studies – and we’ll be keeping the noise level down, but we have to protect the planet too!”
In a statement provided to John’s Principal Bursar, Andrew Parker, BP said that “we share the concerns of the students of St. John’s College about climate change and the unsustainable direction that the world is currently on. And we want to be part of the solution.” It is not yet known whether BP are working alongside the College to reach a conclusion to the situation.
I will be fascinated to see how the events inside – and outside – of John’s play out; from the resolve of the students I spoke to, I would not be surprised if the camp-out continues for the foreseeable future: with ready – and unstoppable access – to the necessary supplies, as well as the support of friends, fellow students, protestors (and countless members of the wider world, always available through social media), it seems that it now falls on John’s to reach a decision which will conclude events.
Image credit: Alex Haveron-Jones