Student suspensions lead to huge Islamophobia row at London college

Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic) in London is at the centre of a huge row about Islamophobia and the government’s counter-terrorism policies after it suspended three of its students, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.

Final year students Tahyba Ahmed, Sumayyah Ashraf and Humayra Tasnim were suspended on May 22 after being accused of “misusing the college communication system.”

The trio had sent an e-mail to all students and staff protesting a college decision to cancel an event about Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism policy which is now being implemented in British schools.

They also expressed disquiet that the senior management were dismissing the concerns of Muslim students about Prevent.

Now fellow students at NewVic have signed a petition and started a social media campaign (#Newvic3) urging that the trio be allowed to return to school and demanding that the college take a clear stance against Islamophobia.

Cancelled Prevent meeting

The row erupted after an event about Prevent featuring journalist Dilly Hussain, NUS black students’ officer Malia Bouattia and councillor Unmesh Desai was cancelled over unspecified concerns about “one of the speakers.”

In the letter sent to students and staff, which 5Pillars has seen, Ahmed, Ashraf and Tasnim also accused the college principal, Eddie Playfair, of championing Prevent, of dismissing concerns that students had about it being implemented in the college, and of denying that a lack of trust exists between students and staff.

Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic)
Newham Sixth Form College (NewVic)

The students also alleged in the e-mail that a teacher had told a class of female students that they were “too lazy to run to Syria, carry machine guns and have sex all day.” No subsequent disciplinary proceedings were taken against the teacher.

The students also:

–  said that senior management had acted with “clear dishonesty” and “a lack of transparency.”

– demanded that NewVic make a clear public stand against the “government Prevent scheme on the basis of it fueling Islamophobia, creating mistrust between student and staff and negatively impacting Muslims students in the uncomfortable climate we face.”

–  urged that Ghaffar Hussain of the Quilliam Foundation not be allowed on school premises to train its staff.

–  demanded that Prevent not be allowed on college premises at all.

Petition

After the e-mail was sent the students received suspension letters from the college to “allow it time to investigate a serious allegation of a misuse of the college communication system,” although the college added that they were not presuming “guilt or innocence.”

But nearly three weeks later fellow students are raising their voices in protest and demanding the trio’s re-instatement.

Among the tributes for the suspended students are the following:

“Sumayyah is a really good friend, who contributes in class, gets along with everyone and supports her community. Sharing a class with her for two years has allowed me to see how generous she is.” Hanifa Begum

“Humayra loves this college. She does everything she can to advocate a high quality of education for all its students, she is the bravest student I know.” Robbie Shaw, Student Union officer

“Ambition, dedication and inspiration, just some of the qualities that Taybha brings to our college. She is an asset to this institution and a role model to all students.” Maryam Hegazi, Student Union liaison officer

Moreover, a  petition by students of NewVic says that they “are appalled at the way in which the Management team have failed to address, and genuinely take into consideration the serious fear and anxiety felt by NewVic’s Muslim students.”

NewVic principal Eddie Playfair
NewVic principal Eddie Playfair

The statement continues: “Our college says it is prepared to deal with Islamophobia, but the most serious Islamophobia threatening to destroy student-staff relations, for those it has not already, is the institutional Islamophobia that has been legitimised by the CTS Act…

“Our College must take a clear stand against this institutional Islamophobia by making it apparent and explicit that we, students and staff, are thoroughly unhappy and feel rightfully uncomfortable in being inside college premises due to Prevent.”

Meanwhile, Armanaz Chambers, the lawyers who are acting for the suspended students, have said they would be seeking damages against the college should they fail to achieve their predicted grades.

A letter sent to the college principal, seen by 5Pillars, states: “You have also failed to minimise the devastating impact on our clients that we consider you could have reasonably foreseen. This also includes the impact this has had on their emotional and psychological well-being. Students sitting final examinations understandably suffer stress. However our clients have now suffered further unnecessary and unwarranted stress and have all felt the need to seek medical advice.”

In response to the allegations NewVic issued a statement today saying the students had been suspended following an “unauthorised and inappropriate use of college communications,” and had so far not responded to requests to meet.

The statement continued: “These students have been temporarily suspended for an alleged misuse of the college’s communication system, not because of raising issues of Islamophobia.

“NewVic is very committed to fighting all forms of discrimination including Islamophobia. We recently held an event, organised with students, to discuss concerns about anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain today and a list of recommendations was produced which we hope to build on. We are always prepared to listen to students’ views which we take very seriously.

“The college is a diverse and respectful learning community where we value open debate and freedom of speech . We will continue to listen to any concerns or complaints students have and to address them sensitively and appropriately.”

You can follow Roshan Muhammed Salih on Twitter @RMSalih

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