Exam Schools being occupied.
Credit: Gaspard Rouffin

Exams cancelled as pro-Palestine protesters occupy Exam Schools

This morning, a group claiming to be autonomous from OA4P (Oxford Action for Palestine) occupied a hall in the East Writing School building of Exam Schools. This resulted in the cancellation of a second year Chemistry exam, and at least four students were detained by police.

The group stated that they will be remaining in the building “until the University agrees to meet all [6 OA4P] demands and provide academic and legal amnesty for all individuals who have taken part in the coalition.”

The four students were detained, including at least one for carrying a bike lock, were released without charges around an hour later.

The demands include disclosure of University-wide assets annually, divestment from Israeli firms and arms companies, and an overhaul of its investment policy. They also demand an end to links with Israeli universities and academic institutions, an end to banking with Barclays, and the rebuilding of Palestinian academia.

The group has also renamed Exam Schools Dahshan Schools after Saeed Dashan, a Palestinian academic and specialist in international law.

The coalition stated that “by renaming the schools in his honour, we hope to amplify the work of all Palestinian academics who have been killed in [Israel’s] scholasticide and highlight paths to justice devised by Palestinian people.”

Police have arrived at the scene, with at least 6 officers having entered the building. Protesters and students are chanting “Free, Free Palestine”, and “What do we want, liberation. When do we want it? Now.”

There are at least 20 protesters outside the building, which is less than previous protests.

The occupants of Exams Schools are hanging exam papers from the building. On those papers, they have written “Free Palestine”.

This action follows more than a month of the pro-Palestinian encampment set up outside the Pitt Rivers Museum, and a little under a month on from the encampment set up outside the Radcliffe Camera.

Following significant backlash after a sit-in from OA4P members resulted in 17 arrests, the University agreed last week to meet with members of the OA4P coalition.

However, the group occupying Exam Schools have stated that the “dialogue meeting with the pro-VCs and OA4P’s negotiation team” was a “delay tactic that has unfortunately worked”. The group further said that no “action points were brought forward and no commitments, apart from those that were vague and abstract, were made.”

An anonymous Chemistry student commented: “Disrupting students’ exams is not the way to go, they can’t do anything but feel exceptionally more distressed and anxious because of such actions while it has a much smaller effect on the university. These people are alienating more people from this cause, and I can surely say they have lost the support of a lot of students today including my own.”

“Student protests are supposed to support students while still bringing about change, not hurting them. Despite the fact that this may be an autonomous organisation, the OA4P Instagram account posting and asking for more support for this is deplorable and I have lost all faith in them and other such performative activism which is actively harming students academic results and playing with their futures.”

Thames Valley Police stated: “Thames Valley Police is aware of a protest at Oxford University which started at around 9am this morning (13/6). Officers attended the university following reports of protestors gaining access to the exam schools. We continue to work closely with the university as this develops. No arrests have been made.”

A University spokesman commented: “The University is disappointed with this morning’s occupation of the exam schools and the absolutely unacceptable disruption caused to our students. We are putting into place contingency plans to ensure all students will have the opportunity to sit their examinations with as little disruption as possible.”

“It is unclear who the occupying group are representing, as they claim to be acting without the knowledge of the OA4P encampments. While the University supports the right to peaceful protest within the law and our rules, this action plainly goes beyond the bounds of acceptable protest.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that students had been arrested. They were removed by police.