6 January 2021
Students are at the cutting-edge of the social crisis as the pandemic escalates out of control. Student rent-striker Victoria Lucas (not her real name) reports.
Students living in Halls of Residence at Goldsmiths University, along with many other universities across the UK, are rent striking – withholding rent payments as well as protesting in any way we can – due to the unacceptable conditions of those Halls of Residence.
Students have complained of rats, dead and alive, in their flats, as well as cockroaches. Rat faeces can be found under fridges – which is typically what first led students to find dead rats, left decomposing in communal areas.
Clogged drains, or drains emitting a foul smell, have been complained of, with one resident stating that when the management team eventually went to their flat, they merely left basic plumbing equipment on their kitchen table and told them they could sort it themselves.
Faulty electrical appliances (fridges that overheat, fridges that freeze; the wiring in kitchens not working; lights not turning on for weeks at a time) are left broken, despite residents complaining to the appropriate people for weeks on end. Issues of black mould and broken furniture are ignored by management staff.
Students were promised working Wi-Fi in their flats, which has not been the case since September when the accommodation team opened their doors to us.
Security issues are present, with doors to blocks of flats broken, meaning anybody can enter the flat. Windows are often broken, with people managing to climb in and out of them. Management and security teams take weeks to fix these problems, despite being fully aware.
Additionally, more insidious matters on campus are overlooked by senior management staff. Instances of sexual violence and racism have been reported with nothing done – no repercussions on the offenders, and little to no support for the victims.
One evening, students at Loring Hall drew on the road, still within campus, with chalk. Most drawings were innocent depictions of fairytale creatures and doodles. Some were more politically charged, targeting the sexually violent living on campus. The chalk-bearing students were threatened with fines, and the chalk was washed away by security with power hoses, despite it being forecast to rain a mere few hours later.
Covid on campus
Students were promised safety in their flats when it came to the handling of the Covid pandemic, but once again, Goldsmiths fell short. Students who tested positive for the coronavirus were left with minimal support, and students living on campus were left in the dark about Covid infections within their halls – despite Goldsmiths reassuring us that students would be informed of any new outbreaks.
The hall’s experience is already one of isolation and difficulty, so living in genuinely unsafe conditions with zero support from those who are meant to be ensuring it is safe for us is unnecessary hardship.
I come from a low-income household, so the very high rent fee cripples me. I made the university more than aware of the complex and severe mental health conditions I experience and how the halls environment can trigger symptoms, yet zero support was offered other than giving me a mini-fridge in my room. I have been unable to access any Wi-Fi in my room since September and have only been able to get any kind of reception by leaving halls entirely.
I don’t feel safe due to the university’s way of dealing with Covid, and my mental health is affected quite considerably every time I stay in my flat. My key card to access my flat didn’t work for about two weeks, so I would have to climb in through my kitchen window every time I wanted to enter, and my bathroom light hasn’t worked for two months.
Due to the stresses of this, as well as being unable to do my uni work because it is all online and I have no working wifi, I moved back home. Unable to leave my tenancy contract early, I am left paying rent despite not living there.
We, at Goldsmiths Rent Strike, are demanding a list of things that we feel, as students, we deserve:
- The management team to respond within 24 hours of a complaint being made.
- A 50% rent reduction for the remainder of the academic year (2020/21).
- A guarantee of no job losses for members of staff.
- No penalisation of any student who wishes to end their tenancy contract early, for both this and the next academic years.
- Immediate removal of sexual violence perpetrators from campus, and increased support (a revision of the current ‘Report & Support’ system that is not working) for victims.
- Immediate action against racism on campus and increased support for black and brown students, as well as anti-racism training for both students and staff members, and the setting up of a new complaints procedure (following 2019’s Goldsmiths Anti-Racist Action demands)
- An increase in support for students who are isolating due to coronavirus (food-and-care packages, daily access to outdoor spaces, increased communication with staff and students regarding infection rates within halls)
- A public apology from Goldsmiths for the way they have treated students in halls.
We also demand, on behalf of our local community of Lewisham, a promise from Goldsmiths to acknowledge their contribution to the harmful effects of gentrification on local areas, most notably Deptford, Peckham, and Camberwell.
Goldsmiths is only one university college among so many but students across the country share the same demands: to stop our education becoming a big business, a ‘money first, students second’ system.
Goldsmith’s Rent Strike can be followed on Twitter here.