Student anger at 'intimidation'

Student anger at 'intimidation'

By Sarah Harvey on Thu, 29 May 2008
News: Dunedin

A noisy student protest against the actions of University of Otago Campus Watch staff passed without incident at the Dunedin campus yesterday.

More than 100 (actually 400+) students, many of whom appeared to be smoking cannabis, marched through the centre of the campus to the offices of the proctor, Simon Thompson, and urged him to come down from his first-floor office.

However, when Mr Thompson left through a back door, the protesters moved their attention to three police officers standing at the campus entrance.
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University of Otago students services director David Richardson said the majority of students supported Campus Watch and the protest appeared to be led by the leader of the marijuana law reform group, Norml, in relation to an issue where some of their members were dealt with by police recently.

Mr Richardson said protests by students were accepted but illegal activity on the campus was not. "And the law clearly states that cannabis is illegal," he said.

Most of the student group had been involved in a cannabis "smoke up" at 4.20pm, although others joined them at the start of the protest at 4.30pm.

Many held placards which read, among other things, "Big Brother is Watching You" and "While you are busy arresting stoners, who is getting raped?" Chants went along the lines of " I don't pay my fees to pay for quasi-police".

The group dispersed after about an hour.

The protest, which was organised by the students' association and Norml, was aimed at what they said was intimidation and harassment of students by Campus Watch staff.

The group was sparked into action when a student was arrested for possessing cannabis on campus. There have also been incidents where Campus Watch staff allegedly followed "suspicious-looking" students.

OUSA president Simon Wilson said the protest highlighted issues many students were concerned about. Students now needed to approach the university in a formal matter in order for anything to change.

Dunedin police emergency response commander Inspector Alastair Dickie said police had contacted the university after hearing about the incident and were there to keep the peace.

The protest went without incident, but Insp Dickie said police had reserve staff on hand if the situation had got out of control.