The final week before University of Glasgow students vote in the next Rector has seen a surge in student protest, largely provoked by controversial candidate Milo Yiannopoulos and, to a lesser degree, Professor Jordan Peterson, whose opinions regarding hate speech legislation has caused upset. Two separate protests were held on 16 March, designed to coincide with the rectorial hustings occurring later the same day at 6pm.
The first of the two protests on 16 March was organised by students Oscar Levis and Rona Bird and took place at 1pm outside the library. Billed specifically as a response to the candidature of Yiannopoulos, this protest cited his “extensive record of hate speech” and stated its aim “to raise awareness of Yiannopoulos’ public persona and to encourage students to vote for a different candidate”. It should be noted that this event did not advocate a boycott of the election in the manner of Glasgow University Feminist Society’s now retracted proposal, nor did it explicitly demand Yiannopoulos be removed from the ballot.
Around 30 to 40 protesters attended in rainy conditions, rallied to a chant of “Hey Ho, Milo must go” and heard speakers talk on topics such as trans hate crime, islamophobia, sexual harassment on university campuses and anti-immigrant sentiment. All of these are topics which Yiannopoulos has been particularly outspoken on, consistently clashing with the opinions of those gathered to protest. The protest progressed without any disruption and dispersed calmly.
Outside the McIntyre building, at 4pm on the same day, the Glasgow University Anarchist student group hosted a protest billed as “anti-fascist mobilisation” which nominally protested “the targeting of minorities and fascist rhetoric” as well as having a “larger purpose” to of responding to “the incredibly real threat posed to members of our community (beyond just the University)”. This protest did not have any specific demands either, but the facebook event page stated that the group were “disappointed with the way this situation has been managed by the University”. As well as Yiannopoulos, the group also expressed opposition to the candidature of Professor Jordan Peterson, whom they branded a “transphobe”.
This event was better attended than the Anti-Milo event, with over 60 people present, and was of a notably higher profile. Besides Glasgow students, the diverse crowd included several students from Strathclyde University and representatives of the radical trade union, Industrial Workers of the World (the event was billed as open to students and non-students alike). There was a notable police presence and a police van, which ultimately wasn’t needed, parked outside of the University gates. The range of speakers, which included rector nominee Aamer Anwar as well as sociology lecturers Matthew Waites and Diego Maria Malara, covered topics like the rise of right-wing populism, the migrant crisis, feminist issues and the struggles in Palestine. Also discussed were developments within the Kurdish controlled Syrian region of Rojava, where rector nominee Brace Belden is currently fighting. Chants ranged from the University specific “Say it loud, say it clear, Milo is not welcome here” to more general socialist maxims such as “unemployment and inflation are not caused by immigration” and “bullshit, come off it, the enemy is profit”.
Speaking very briefly before leaving to attend the hustings, Anwar said “I think the first victory of this protest is that Milo Yiannopoulos is not coming to this university, which I think is a good thing.” Although Yiannopoulos did not attend the rectorial hustings, this was known before the protest took place and it is unclear whether he was actually deterred by the demonstration.
The sole disruption of the event was the arrival of two men brandishing “Make America Great Again” hats of the kind made famous during Donald Trump’s recent presidential campaign. This provoked cries of “wankers!” from the crowd and the men soon left without incident. Yiannopoulos is well known to be a vocal supporter of President Trump.
Soon after the crowd dispersed slowly, bringing an end to the peaceful demonstration.
Perhaps the only student protest in recent weeks not to be involved in any way with the controversial rector elections is that provoked by the appearance of “Alpacas on campus!” on 17 March. Organised by the Glasgow University Raising and Giving (RAG) charity student group, the alpacas were brought along to the main building to entertain students and raise money for the Pets as Therapy charity, which facilitates visits to people in need by pet-owning volunteers. The student group enthused “the alpaca has been called the ‘cuter, quirkier and cooler’ cousin of the llama and we’ve invited several of them along to campus for you to meet. What better excuse do you need to take a study break and de-stress than the chance to get up close and personal with these beautiful beasts?!”.
However, the organiser of the protest, student Alexandra Darling, took a different view of the event; “We believe that animals are not for our entertainment and should be treated with respect. The two alpacas looked miserable in the horrible weather conditions and they were showing signs of stress before the event had even begun.”
In the bad weather, the six-strong protest had, by Darling’s own admission, limited success as passing students displayed “Mixed reactions; from agreement to smirks and mockery”. Nonetheless, she optimistically concluded that “It may not have been a roaring success but we hope that we at least got our message across and people may think about the animal’s welfare in future.”