When she first sent me off to university, my mother half joked that she’d see me on the news chained to railings somewhere. She expected me not just to get political on my seemingly very progressive and liberal campus, but to get radical.
She was wrong about me, and I was wrong about Warwick.
I’d prided myself on being a feminist and an ally many years before I realised that wasn’t enough. I learned quickly and eagerly about terms I’d never encountered before, intersectionality and inclusivity. It wasn’t enough to champion women and the marginalised – I had to learn to raise their voices above my own. To listen, but not ask them to educate me. Not empower them, but move out of the way so that they could be empowered. Being a feminist was now to me mostly about my recognition and facilitation of the privilege I was afforded as a white, educated, middle class cis-woman.
These learnings changed me. My language. The way I thought and acted. The people I followed on social media. The behaviour I condemned.
I started my own online empowerment community for womxn and non-binary people. I campaigned on social media and raised thousands of pounds to help fight period poverty in the UK. My online activism card had quite a few stamps on it. But IRL? Where it really mattered? I had never put my money where my mouth was.
This changed only yesterday, when I marched alongside hundreds of others, outraged at our university, the institution we devote ourselves – and our money – to.
The situation at Warwick has gained national notoriety. In May last year, a group chat containing male students, many of whom held high powered positions amongst societies on campus, was exposed. To say the messages were vile and disturbing is an understatement. Over ninety pages of rape threats towards specific female students, anti-Semitic and racist remarks, ableist and sexist language were published. We were shocked and hurt – our little West Midlands bubble had been burst. The place we felt safe was called into question. The university responded by sentencing those involved to varied lengths of bans, the main perpetrators receiving lifetime exclusions.
Or so we all thought — until we learned earlier in the year that the lifetime bans had been reduced to just one year, and these horrendous individuals would be back on campus come September, their punishment a “year off” without any implication on their return.
Our university, our home, let every single one of us down. The petition calling for the ban to be reinstated and the individuals not allowed to return at the time of writing has 76,000 signatures. The handling of the case has sparked outcry and disgust from around the country. But nowhere has felt the shame and disappointment like the streets of our campus.
So, we fucking rioted.
I felt the fury, the anger and the sadness like I never had before. I also felt the solidarity. On the bus home, my adrenalin was sky high. I text my mum pictures of me writing “Shame On You Warwick” in chalk on the side of a university building as if to say “your prophecy finally came true”.
I was proud, until I was ashamed. Until it hit me that for all my “work” towards activism, it had taken for a violation of justice to happen quite literally on my doorstep for me to properly do something about it. Being able-bodied and privileged enough not to be persecuted for demonstrating against injustice, I had no excuse to have not participated before.
All this is to say, I do not deserve a medal for what I did yesterday. Far from it. The true heroes of that demonstration were the organisers – the majority black and women of colour, the non-binary and trans individuals who make up the societies and groups on campus that work tirelessly against injustice – who united us all, in anger and solidarity. The ones who gave more while having so much more to lose than I. Being surrounded by these incredible, selfless people made me realise how much responsibility I have and how much more I need to take.
And my feet on that pavement, my voice in those chants was just the tiniest step towards that.
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