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Issue 1848 (PDF)
The student newspaper of Imperial College London

Keep the Cat Free

Imperial students establish encampment on Queen's Lawn

Tents pitched after meeting with College fails to yield divestment commitments.

Imperial encampment Photo: Walt Gao for Felix


in Issue 1848

Students at Imperial College London followed peers at universities in the UK and the US on Thursday afternoon, setting up an encampment after a meeting with the university failed to yield commitments to divest from companies ‘supporting the occupation of Palestine’.

Chants of “Free, free Palestine” rang out across Queen’s Lawn on the university’s South Kensington campus, as protestors pitched tents and pinned up banners declaring the area ‘Imperial College Liberated Zone’.

Students from Imperial and a small number of outsiders from the general public and other London universities gathered for an initial rally that organisers say organically turned into an encampment.

At its peak at 1:30pm around 80 people stood on the lawn outside the tents. By 4:30pm, a core group of around 25 people remained.

Read Imperial’s full statement on the encampment here.

Enc2 Photo: Jamie John for Felix
Students set up the encampment

Earlier in the day, a coalition of pro-Palestinian student societies met with a delegation of senior College staff to discuss their demands, which included condemning Israel’s actions in Palestine, supporting the redevelopment of the region’s higher education system, and establishing an ‘independent body of students and staff to ensure compliance with these demands’.

The Imperial delegation, consisting of College Secretary Richard Martin, Deputy Director of Student Services Nicola Morgan, and Vice-Provost (Education and Student Experience) Peter Haynes, explained that Imperial would not be able to make new commitments to meeting the demands in the short term.

Imperial believes its scholarship and academic mobility schemes fulfil demands the students have made for scholarships for Palestinian students. It is seeking legal advice on its policies on investments and academic work at the College.

“It was a very neutral response,” said a student present at the meeting and affiliated with IC Action for Palestine, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “They said they would look into things further, but there was no specific commitment to anything other than further investigation.

“They claimed to be interested in hearing our feedback about their previous communications [on the situation in Gaza] but did not feel able to create a statement that would be at odds with the UK government’s foreign policy.”

At 12:30pm, upon the conclusion of the hour-long meeting, the students joined a pro-Palestinian rally on Queen’s Lawn.

They updated the gathered crowd on the outcomes of the meeting and urged activists to continue protesting. “It is on us to show them what we believe and what we demand. We can do that by coming out every single week, by continuing our campaigns, and by continuing to disrupt the recruitment activities that are going on on this campus today, tomorrow, and the day after.”

Enc1 Photo: Jamie John for Felix
Students who met a delegation of Imperial staff updated protestors at the rally on Thursday

At around quarter to one, the group crossed the walkway on Queen’s Lawn and began to pitch tents on the grass adjacent to the Sherfield Building.

A member of Imperial’s security team stationed nearby told Felix they were not aware of the plans and had asked students not to set up tents but would not immediately be taking action.

The student present at the meeting with Imperial said that the encampment began organically. “People have been considering one on our group chat since students started getting arrested at Columbia. Our group is very organic and grassroots – people propose things, people do things. So it’s been a tactic for escalation that’s been discussed for a while.”

They added that discussions had become more concrete over the past month, and that the establishment of an encampment had been “conditional on the university making zero progress to our demands.”

“We updated the crowd on what had happened [at the meeting with Imperial], and those who were unhappy started to set up tents.

“We now intend to stay and escalate as required to meet our demands. The timeline that the College has given us – for responding, doing further investigation – will take weeks, and possibly longer.

“If they’re going to continue to not make progress for weeks, we will continue to be there for weeks.”

A spokesperson for Imperial said: ‘You may have seen that a small number of unauthorised tents have been placed on the Dangoor Plaza on our South Kensington campus.

‘As an institution of higher education, Imperial provides an open forum for debate on and exploration of all topics, in which everyone can participate in a respectful manner within the law. This will continue. 

‘Delivering ongoing commentary on geopolitical events would make it difficult to realise this role.

‘Imperial will continue to take a stand against all forms of racist or hateful behaviour, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Any incidents will be taken extremely seriously. Any protest that becomes hateful, unlawful or constitutes harassment or bullying will not be tolerated.

‘Please continue to show support and compassion for colleagues and students across the university in response to this distressing and complex situation. 

‘Imperial must stand as one community and show understanding and care for each other.’

Israeli authorities say that around 1,200 people were killed in attacks by Hamas on 7th October, and 252 others taken hostage.

Since then, over 35,000 people have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Gaza, according to Palestinian officials from Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

A previous version of this article stated that over 100 people were present at the encampment. This was based on a contemporaneous count taken from the lawn itself, where the crowds movement made counting challenging. A revised count based on photographs taken from above the encampment shows that at its peak at 1:30pm, around 80 people were present. The text has been updated to reflect this.

Encampment Photo: Walt Gao for Felix

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