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30th November 2014

Off-campus but on the record

In their efforts to record and control its students, the University of Manchester and the local community are neglecting the real dangers

You might remember earlier this year that changes to the University of Manchester’s policy regarding off-campus behaviour caused outrage. Perhaps you, like most, were unengaged, allowing the massive infringement on the rights of the universities students to slip by unnoticed.

Essentially the university saw fit to amend its Student Code of Conduct, in what those aware of the reform labelled a ‘Big Brother’ reform. The amendment to policy made the behaviour of students off-campus the interest of those responsible to infringing discipline on campus.

Put in layman’s terms, get in trouble off campus and you could be swiftly removed from the university and politely taken off-campus where you can’t cause the university embarrassment.

This could be seen as a good move on behalf of the university, the logic being an extension of the surveillance state resulting in a decrease in antisocial behaviour. What it evidences to me, however, is a wholly different, more authoritarian form of imposing the university’s standards and morality on all those who pass through its gates, whether you are on their turf or not.

Societally, it is my responsibility not to throw up through my neighbour’s letterbox while screaming swearwords through their open windows. I’m aware people don’t like that, so I don’t do it. The university suggesting that I need some sort of threat hovering over my head not to do so implies not to me that they have social responsibility but that they don’t have a huge amount of faith in me.

I personally feel that this form of surveillance of my off-campus behaviour serves to pander to a suppression of the minority who don’t act in compliance with social expectation, while undermining the majority who do.

“If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear,” I hear naysayers of my stance cry. True. Having said that, there is (I assure you) nothing untoward about my gmail inbox. I don’t, however, want Google, Facebook or the National Security Agency scrutinising my emails ‘just in case’ I’m an incredibly well-disguised Russian spy.

Similarly, there is nothing unusual about my off-campus behaviour but I don’t want the guillotine of university expulsion hanging heavy above me just in case.

The reform has immediately been called into action with revelations this year that the student residents of Fallowfield are the “worst ever.” Loud and raucous student parties have caused disgruntled residents to call for meetings with university representatives in order to tame their behaviour.

This highlights a whole host of issues, such as students being priced out in established venues in the city and also that these reports serve to vilify the majority of student residents who cause no such problems. The main one that jumps out to me though is that students are treated like children.

It is not the university’s position to cave in to local residents and offer disciplinary procedures against students in order to appease the pressure. If students are loud, it is a social not educational issue. Call the police by all means, but when these minorities of students are treated as if they are children in a school it’s difficult to complain when they respond petulantly.

Alternatively, if the university plans to act as a city wide police presence, enforcing the wishes of non-university residents, then I have an issue to raise on behalf of students.

In October the Manchester Evening News published an article entitled ‘We Don’t Feel Safe’. It was a quote by a University of Manchester student. It voiced a concern held by many of Fallowfield’s student population who, following consistent failure to protect our safety, no longer feel safe in their area.

If the university plans to make highly publicised efforts to appease residents, then I can’t help but feel similar effort should be made to fulfil the duty it has to keep its students safe.

While I’m not by any means condoning student’s behaviour, or suggesting that it is the complete responsibility of the university to ensure safety, turn the surveillance light upon student’s protection and it makes for uncomfortable viewing.

There have been thirty reported rape cases between August and September of this year, one of which took place when a student was abducted from the steps of the Students’ Union following Pangaea.

Three students were involved in an unprovoked attack near Revolution in Fallowfield which left one in hospital, his condition described as serious.

The surveillance is there, it is present, watching our moves, threatening our actions with expulsion, prompting complaints from local residents.

The surveillance however serves to infringe upon our rights are citizens of Manchester. We live with a constant threat hanging above us, one which we have power to contain, but which shouldn’t exist.

All the while, however, we live in danger. ‘We don’t feel safe’, let down by the same institutions who serves to threaten us with their surveillance of our actions.

We may be off-campus, but what we do is on record. The problem, however, is that the surveillance logging what we do is focused in one spot on the landscape while a far greater evil continues to operate in its blind spot.

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