Both students who were active in the protest said that their colleges were supportive, but not everyone had the same experienceXR

Extinction Rebellion’s (XR) week-long shutdown in Cambridge has been hard to miss: from the group’s controversial digging up of Trinity’s lawn, which made national headlines, to multiple arrests, to climbing on top of gas stations, the activists have been busy.

Although students made up a relatively small number of protestors, and Cambridge Zero Carbon stayed clear of the protests entirely, two students spoke to Varsity about their experiences at the XR blockade. They spoke of the difficulty of balancing protest with their degrees, but felt supported by their colleges, whilst a student at Trinity was faced being given a formal warning from Trinity for showing the group support.

Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Rebel for Justice’ campaign came to a head last week, and from 16th to 22nd February, the group set up tents and blockaded entry for vehicles on Trumpington Road. The activists levelled demands at major Cambridge institutions, including the University, which they are calling on to divest from its fossil fuel interests.

The blockade continued as the demands were not met, and XR protestors carried out multiple ‘satellite’ actions every day of the week – each of which had a ‘theme’ – including spray-painting the Schlumberger Research Institute in protest of oil research.


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Josh Mazas and Edie Turner, two undergraduates at King’s and Churchill, were heavily involved in the protests, which they found difficult to balance with their degrees.

“[Managing the two has been] tricky… primarily because of the weather, which has made me a bit ill,” said MML student Josh, speaking to Varsity on his break from the blockade.

Josh and Edie have both been camping out overnight in low temperatures. Josh found himself staying up all night on his shift to ensure check the site wasn’t damaged during the early hours, whilst looking after the people and equipment at the blockade.

For Josh, there lies a difficulty in “knowing that what XR is doing is contributing towards really positive change for the entire planet and then thinking to yourself, ‘I have a worksheet or an essay that’s due tomorrow’, [but] how can you possibly prioritise the essay?”

But he emphasises that “the most important thing is looking after yourself. That involves doing University work, and everyone is incredibly supportive.”

“Every student who is involved will be contributing in a different way”, he added. “You can give whatever you like – there isn’t any set amount of time or responsibility.”

Edie too, who studies Philosophy, stressed that the other XR activists had pushed her to prioritise University work, telling Varsity that “after I had complained four or five times about not having done my essay, a couple of older women would come and give me a nudge every now and again.”

The two are also part of the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society – a student-led activist group lobbying for the University to divest from fossil fuels. 

While Zero Carbon has not come out publicly in favour of XR’s actions and according to Edie, “there are people in Zero Carbon who don’t feel comfortable taking illegal action”, she emphasises this “doesn’t mean that we aren’t working together… we are all part of the same fight”.

Both students also gave up their college rooms for activists wanting a break from campaigning and sleeping outside, and cooked vegan meals in their gyps for them to take to the blockade. 

Josh highlights that King’s has been supportive of the group’s activities, and when one of its students was arrested for participating in the protests, he urges it was “incredibly supportive”, asking the student, “how can we support you during this time?”

“I think that kind of support is really rare in Cambridge colleges, and I hope more colleges can see the value of having students on the front line and in the media with regards to Extinction Rebellion,” notes Josh.

“How can it be bad press when XR is at the forefront of caring about this planet’s future?”

But not all students had such positive experiences with their college regarding their support of the shutdown, such as one student from Trinity, who wished to remain anonymous. 

They told Varsity they were reprimanded for shouting words of support out of their window during the group’s action last Monday digging holes in Trinity’s front lawn to protest the College’s plans to convert land it owns into housing development and a parking site.

The college had sent an email to students informing them all but two of its gates would be shut until the day after the actions were set to end, on 24th February, though it made no mention of XR specifically. 

After the protest took place, it emphasised that while it “respects the right to freedom of speech and non-violent protest, it draws the line at criminal damage,” and liaised with the police.

“I received an email from the Dean of the college asking me to come in for an urgent, non-disciplinary meeting concerning events on Monday 17th February, the day of the protest,” they said.

The student claimed that in the meeting, the Dean argued the student was set to receive a formal warning, stressing to them the impact of Trinity students being seen to be actively encouraging the action. 

The Dean, alleged the student, argued this reaction was primarily due to the upsetting of staff members – in particular the head porters and gardeners – by the protest, who work to maintain the college’s upkeep.

“I feel quite dismayed at the college's response, not because my actions weren’t upsetting to the staff, but because of how seriously they took my actions as a threat to the safety of the college”, said the student. 

“The meeting did not even mention the motivation behind the protest or Trinity’s investment policies”.

In response to the allegations, a spokesperson from Trinity College insisted that “no student has been disciplined in relation to this matter”, though it makes no claim denying this initial disciplinary meeting taking place.

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