Police have been called to the University of Auckland after a student sit-in escalated into a full-blown protest. Events began around mid-day, when Auckland University Student Association (AUSA) staff and selected students entered the west-wing of the university’s Clock Tower to stage a secret sit-in protest.
Protestors, who carried placards denouncing the Vice-Chancellor’s decision not to remove white supremacist posters from campus, sat outside the stairs leading to his office, and engaged in conversation with security and university staff.
Shortly after entering the building, AUSA released a statement explaining why they had chosen to hold the sit-in. “We are doing this to say that white supremacy, racism and discrimination have no place here at our University,” the statement said. It called for the Vice-Chancellor to affirm “the university has zero tolerance for white supremacy”, and ended by inviting students to join the group at the Clock Tower, so long as they were committed to being “completely peaceful”.
Over the next few hours, the sit-in protest grew in number, with students from both AUT and the University of Auckland arriving to join the group. Students sat in the Clock Tower’s lobby, exchanging stories with one another. Some protesters hung a banner with the words “Zero Tolerance for Intolerance” across stairs leading up to the top of the Clock Tower.
As the sit-in grew in size, and the room began to fill, protestors found themselves spilling out onto the sidewalk immediately outside the building. More and more students began to gather on the sidewalk, with spontaneous chants of “Stuey, let’s have a hui!” erupting and dying down as the day went on.
By 3 o’clock, around a hundred students outside the Clock Tower had begun to block access up and down Princes Street. Protestors who had begun the day inside the Clock Tower walked outside to join them, waving placards reading “Alt-Right Delete” and “UoA Your Silence is Deafening”. Students formed a wall across Princes Street, chanting and refusing to allow cars to pass through.
For a while, the students successfully blocked off the street, with most cars pulling over to park, or driving back the way they had came. But after one driver exited her car to confront the students, police were called in to de-escalate the situation.
Craccum understands the police encouraged protestors to leave the street, urging them to break-up. But the protestors, still in full swing, walked back towards the university instead. Students gathered around a plinth in the middle of the university’s wind-swept quad and began encouraging protestors to share their stories with one another. Dozens of speakers took turns standing on the plinth to share their thoughts with the crowd.
A Samoan speaker told the assembled crowd that – after she had arrived in Auckland from Samoa – she had stopped wearing a flower above her ear, for fear of appearing strange or foreign. Pointing to a flower she was wearing, she apologised for giving in to the pressure, and promised the assembled students that she from henceforth she wouldn’t “stop being Samoan for anyone.”
One speaker congratulated the students for vocalising their opinions, and called on the university to ask itself why it had a recurring problem with white supremacists. “Why is it happening here? Why is it only at the University of Auckland that we have these stories?” he asked, “Maybe it’s because our Vice-Chancellor won’t say they can’t stay here.”
“I almost didn’t come here because I was so tired,” another student told the crowd. “Tired of having to fucking protest this shit all of the time… It shouldn’t take someone to come to this university and shoot it up for [McCutcheon] to wake the fuck up.”
Green MP Golriz Ghahraman made a surprise appearance, informing the gathered students that she had rushed from the airport to the university to stand in solidarity with the crowd. Ghahraman told the crowd she had come because she was disappointed that her former university had failed to create a safe and inclusive space for its students. “Shame on the university!” she said. “Shame! Shame!” chanted students.
The impromptu protest wrapped up when AUSA President George Barton thanked the assembled crowd for showing their solidarity. Students cheered and hollered, before Barton jokingly pointed towards Shadows (the university’s student bar) and told everyone it was time to move on.