PRESS RELEASE: Student leader threatened with dismissal for protesting gentrification


–  Student union management attempts to sack officer elected by students following political activity against university

–  Campaigners claim students’ union managers “complicit in shutting down dissent” over redevelopment plan.

–  SU officer Sahaya James sits on Momentum’s ruling National Coordinating Group, and is running to be the next NUS President.

–  Sahaya James, Campaigns Officer at the University of the Arts London (UAL) Students’ Union (Arts SU) is being threatened with dismissal after leading an occupation against UAL’s complicity in the gentrification in Elephant and Castle.  

Sahaya James, who is running to be president of the National Union of Students and sits on Momentum’s ruling National Coordinating Group, has been summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the union’s trustee board, which will take place next week, to discuss a ‘motion of no confidence’. The move comes after UAL has begun disciplinary procedures and prevented her from going into university buildings. James was instructed by the union to keep the threat of dismissal secret, but has now gone public.  

The timing of the disciplinaries are widely viewed as a response to a student-led occupation earlier this month at UAL’s London College of Communication (LCC) campus in Elephant and Castle against a redevelopment plan that would replace the shopping centre with an expanded LCC campus alongside luxury flats and shops. Originally just 3% of the 1,000 new homes would be genuinely affordable, and the plan has since been paused by the council.

A student at UAL Lizzy Deacon said: “I cannot believe this. It seems that my own elected officer is facing being sacked for supporting students protesting against the university. Is my student union complicit in shutting down dissent on a campaign that clearly has the support of students and the wider community? This is wrong and unfair on us students as well as the officer.”

Ana Oppenheim, NUS National Executive, said “Sahaya’s role in campaigning against gentrification has been passionate and crucial. It’s all too clear that the students’ union is clamping down on students’ right to protest. This is extremely concerning. Officers are accountable to students, and any attempt to remove them should be done through democratic structures.”

Shelly Asquith, former Chair of Arts SU Board of Trustees, said: “The power to remove an elected union rep from office should lie with those who put them there: the students. It should not be conducted behind closed doors by the University or a handful of Trustees. I am alarmed that this proposal, timed so closely to the NUS elections, would deem Sahaya ineligible to stand for national office.”

Sahaya James said: “The past few weeks have been difficult and upsetting, but I am proud of the success we have had in pushing back the redevelopment plans at Elephant and Castle and I am determined to continue to serve the UAL student body. I have been instructed to keep the disciplinary process secret, but I believe that the students who elected me have the right to know what is happening.”



  1. For press or more info contact Charlie Macnamara 07508 041168 or Andy Warren 07752 640847
  2. Arts SU is the union for students at the University of the Arts London, representing 20,000 students.
  3. Sahaya James is the Campaigns Officer at Arts SU. She was elected by a ballot of all students in February 2017 and is running for President of the National Union of Students at NUS conference in March. She also sits on Momentum’s ruling National Coordinating Group.
  4. James was formally made aware of the motion of no confidence on 22nd February. An extraordinary meeting of the Trustee Board of Arts SU will take place next week. This is in addition to the university preventing her from accessing university buildings and facing a disciplinary process from the institution.
  5. News coverage of the Elephant and Castle occupation can be found here: 1, 2, 3, 4. A Guardian opinion piece by James herself can be found here, as well as an Independent article here.


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