A presentation to undergraduates by an agency of the Ministry of Defence sparked a student-led protest and occupation of Heslington Hall.
The protest, which was headed by members of York Amnesty International and FreeSoc, aimed to disrupt a presentation by representatives of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), which produces a range of aerial, naval and land-based weaponry.
On the night of November 13, 16 protestors, wearing surgical masks and boiler suits with spray-painted logos reading ‘Weapons Inspector’ on their backs, stormed into Heslington Hall minutes after the presentation began.
Their original plan was to occupy the room in which the presentation was taking place and carry out a ‘weapons inspection’ before causing disruption by playing games and singing songs. Upon entering Heslington Hall, however, their access to the room was blocked by security, when one protestor claimed she was “smashed against a wall” by the attending porter.
The protestors then occupied the hallway outside the presentation room for almost an hour. They began by chanting statistics through a megaphone from a pamphlet entitled ‘DSTL: A Job to Kill For’. According to one such statistic, “More than 500,000 people on average are killed with conventional arms every year: one person every minute”’ The protestors then began to sing and hand out cake to security staff.
The talk by DSTL was organized by the Careers Service, whose representative Angus Ferguson was present. He said he recognised that the protestors were “exercising their democratic right” to protest, and could understand that some students were upset. However, he maintained that DSTL is a “legitimate employer”.
The Careers Service offered to let a single representative of the protest make a five minute presentation to the assembled graduates to put across their argument, an offer which the protestors declined.
When asked whether the Careers Service felt it was right to invite members of the arms industry onto campus, Ferguson replied that the Service’s job is “to provide information for students to make their own decisions.” The University charges £175 for use of presentation rooms by companies like DSTL.
As the undergraduates emerged from the meeting room they were forced down a narrow corridor lined on either side by shouting protestors.
Dan Constable, an Electronics student, described the protestors’ behaviour as “outrageous” and “counter-productive” and said it would have been more effective to have taken up the offer of the 5 minute presentation.
Nina Gora of Amnesty International claimed “the natural progression of these talks is people getting killed”.’
A DSTL spokeswoman said in a recent statement “This incident will not deter DSTL from giving future presentations and we are keen to encourage graduates to pursue a career in science”.