One of the reasons I feel so proud to be at Durham University is that I constantly see my fellow students empowering themselves to stand up for what they believe is right. It’s inevitable that sometimes, we will feel that the university should make certain changes or update old policies.
Last Friday, the issue on the table was the climate crisis, and the student groups at the forefront were the Environmental Community of Durham University (ECO DU) and Durham University Amnesty International, who co-organised a two-hour climate strike outside the main University Library. Since finding out that Durham has been ranked 96th in the People and Planet 2019 League Table (which scores UK universities by their environmental and ethical performance), the student voice urging the University to take environmental action has steadily gotten louder, culminating in this event – the first of its kind – which saw a presence of approximately 200 students.
I felt that one of the biggest achievements of the strike was the diverse range of student voices that it set out to, and ultimately succeeded in showcasing. The event had official support from nineteen other student societies and associations, with representatives from each being involved right from the planning stage. During the strike itself, collective songs and chants were interspersed with speeches from student group reps, including the Trans Association, Women’s Association, Just Love, and my own group, DU Vegetarian and Vegan Society.
This is my second year as President of Veg Soc (as it’s informally known), and although I’ve done a bit of public speaking, I’d never done anything quite like this. But alongside the 22 demands for the University drawn up by ECO DU, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to speak about a campaign of ours which has been ongoing since the start of term. For a bit of background, I read over summer that Goldsmiths University in London had removed beef on its campus to reduce carbon emissions, so I emailed the Head of Catering and the Vice Chancellor to ask if Durham could do the same. Since Cambridge University followed suit shortly afterwards, myself and the rest of Veg Soc have been continuing to campaign to remove red meat from Durham’s colleges and catering outlets. After having a positive meeting with staff from the Catering and Procurement teams, we went on to produce a survey asking whether students would support our proposal.
Although I felt nervous stepping out in front of over 100 students, as soon as I started to speak, my passion overtook any fear I had. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was worth it – it’s been only three days since the strike, but we now have a whopping 450 survey respondents, with over 91% supporting the proposal to switch out red meat and replace it with plant-based alternatives. I’ve updated our contacts in the University staff team on our progress, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work alongside them to see this commitment through. These kinds of successes show the potential there is when students and staff join forces, see Matt’s blog about his plans to expand the ‘Embrace the Waste’ scheme – another fantastic campaign started by a student, and now being developed in collaboration with the University.
If this strike has shown anything, it’s that students are able to achieve incredible things, and we’ll keep on standing up for what we believe in. I hope to be writing another post soon about securing not only a red meat ban, but more commitments from the University on environmental responsibility and sustainability! Stay tuned!