Part of the Hetherington Retrospective feature.
The Free Hetherington Occupation divided the student community like little else I have witnessed in my five years as a student here. While there were two very defined sides – those for and those against the occupation – there was also a large group of people who found themselves floundering in the middle and I´d like to think I was one one of them. I did my fully funded undergraduate at the University and enjoyed the education that was given to me, but I also paid for my masters course, and I was happy to contribute to a degree that goes way beyond basic tertiary education.
I have to start by saying that I disagreed with the Free Hetherington and said so on many occasions and in many forums. This got me into a lot of arguments and lost me some friends, but I stuck by my argument. My aversion to the occupation was not on a matter of principle – I support the idea of an open dialogue with the university and I think it is important that the student body shows that they will not simply be overlooked in decisions as big as those Muscatelli proposed. However, I fundamentally disagreed with the way the students that led the occupation went about it. I felt that as someone who believed in setting realistic demands and approaching discourse from a less extremist angle, my views would not be welcome, despite the appearance of free speech. I liked the idea of lectures, talks and events held in the building, but refused to go even to a strike replacement lecture for my course, because I felt that many involved with the Free Hetherington held a “you´re either with us or against us” attitude. I also lost a lot of respect for those involved in making the Free Hetherington´s claims, when they asked for no repercussions for any of those involved. If you are not willing to risk anything for a cause, are you really fighting for it? Most of all, I was put off by the amount of hateful rhetoric that surrounded the occupation on both sides.
This list seems like I simply thought the Free Hetherington were a rag-tag bunch of hippies doomed from the start. While that was certainly the gist of some of my thoughts, the behaviour of GUU members and others on the opposing side of the divide was childish, pathetic and counterproductive. As a whole, the months of occupation felt like being caught between arguing parents, when neither side is really making much sense, but both expect you to stand fully behind them.
Like most other students, I am glad to hear that Muscatelli has decided not to follow through with the severe cuts that were originally planned. Unlike many students, I don’t believe that it was solely the valiant effort of those in the Free Hetherington that led to this development. I know that lecturers and other members of staff were exerting pressure; I know that our masters course came forward and told the University that proposed changes to the course would be for the worse, and I am sure there were many other, quieter rebellions. I hope that the new postgraduate club can continue what I believe to have been the Free Hetherington’s true strength; an open forum for a discussion of a variety of issues. I also hope that it will become a truly open forum, where discourse can happen without vitriol, creating a platform for freedom of speech. This means that there will be some opinions that radically differ from yours and that’s O.K. These are worth hearing just as much as your own. I hope the student body takes this on board and leaves the partisan lines behind; then and only then will something truly noteworthy rise from this.