striking at the intersections: how to not oppress your friends

As we have seen, rent strikes have a history that stands outside as well as inside of campus borders. It’s a tool that’s been used to advance the economic rights of working class as well as black activists for instance - the latter especially within the ‘Black Power’/ Civil Rights movements, where housing struggles were used to fight against structural racism and black poverty. Since the beginning, housing struggles were fought by the least privileged, whose oppressions intersected across their multiple social identities. Intersecting oppressions, and hence intersectional responses, have always been a core part of rent strikes.

Hence we need to ‘strike at the intersections’ on campuses. The student body is obviously made up of many different people from different backgrounds, of which can drastically affect the experience they have of university accommodation. Such differences could be that BAME students can have higher dropout rates, or that students with disabilities struggle to find their housing unlivable due to their conditions. It’s important to recognise these differences so you can manoeuvre your demands as to unite everyone under the same campaign.

Sussex Cut The Rent, for example, centred which had many of their demands around the issues faced by different groups of the student body. They demanded that the proportion of accommodation flats accessible to their students reflect the number of students they accept with disabilities, along with any requests for adaptations of rooms be paid by the university. They also asked that the University change their definition of a student with disabilities to one provided by the SU officer for students with disabilities and the surveys that go out at the end of the year also look into possible cases of systematic discrimination by looking at the identity of those who answered said survey.

Obviously rent cuts are something that will universally help students, some more than others depending on their economic background. Thus, focussing on these aspects of student identity can make the campaign not only populist but also reach out to others who may look to other campaigns to represent them, something which could split the student body.

One thing to be wary of in these circumstances is that the university may try to divide your campaign to neglect or only support these demands around student identity. It is important to make sure at the beginning of the campaign that all demands are seen as equal whether they centre on class, identity or disability as we only succeed as a body if all of us are lifted together.

To conclude, use differences as a point to unite and grow, not to be divided and weakened. Have a campaign that reflects these differences and use it to form a consensus all students can get behind, and to make sure that all are seen equal when it comes to negotiations.

Artwork from the ‘Art in the time of Black Power’ exhibit by Emory Douglas

Artwork from the ‘Art in the time of Black Power’ exhibit by Emory Douglas