CommunityFreedom of Association

Student societies at METU overcome obstacles with solidarity

Almira Akbaş

Click to read in Kurdish or Turkish.

METU student societies opposed the rectorate’s pressure and restrictions on student communities by organizing festivals, having open-air activities, organizing interdisciplinary events with other communities, helping each other with equipment, and maintaining solidarity in many different ways.

METU student societies, which are an essential part of the METU culture and make the university a place that touches every aspect of life rather than just an academic formation, faced many obstacles and restrictions by the rectorate during the 2021-2022 academic year.

With the history of preventing student societies from using the budget allocated to them, threatening to open an investigation against students who organize bazaars to finance their events, holding disciplinary investigations on the students for reasons such as hanging posters, not approving the community events for non-financial reasons, not giving any space for student events, the METU administration continued its infamous career with further pressure.  

Orientation was held in the teeth of oppression and threats

The first ban of the METU Rectorate targeted the Societies Orientation, in which METU student societies introduced their groups at the beginning of each term with various activities, games, and shows. The Rectorate announced that the basketball court, which has been used for this purpose every previous term, cannot be used for the orientation.

METU students who set up their stands on the basketball court and promoted their societies to protect the orientation culture despite the METU administration’s calla were threatened with action against them. Despite the pressure and threats, the students carried out the orientation. Both new students had the opportunity to get to know various societies, and the orientation tradition continued.

The number of posters for each student society decreased to 30 from 60

METU Office of Cultural Affairs announced that the number of posters that student societies can print to say their events are reduced. With this decision right to print 60 colored or black and white posters for each event for free, which was granted to the societies in the past, was revised to 30 black and white or ten colored posters. 

The cost of printing posters has become an enormous burden for student societies that cannot use the budget allocated to them. Some societies have become indebted to stationery to keep participation in their events at the desired level. The fairs and activities the societies wanted to hold to meet these expenses were also not allowed.

The METU administration, citing the lack of personnel, announced that they revised the deadline for the submission of the paperwork to be submitted by the societies to hold any event to 10 days before the event; it used to be five days. With this regulation, having an event based on current affairs became difficult for societies. However, METU students’ demand for eliminating personnel shortages remained unanswered.

The administration wanted to demolish the societies’ building 

Another action of the Rectorate against the student societies was to try demolishing the Baraka (the Hut) building, where some society rooms are located. The Baraka societies demanded from the Rectorate, which wanted to demolish the building under the pretext that the building was physically inadequate and dangerous, to be strengthened and repaired. The desire to destroy the Baraka without asking any component, including the societies located in it, and without seeking another solution was interpreted by many students as an effort of the Rectorate to attack the clubs by destroying the areas where students gather. On the other hand, Baraka societies organized a Baraka Festival on the hut’s lawn, full of community events, music concerts, and movie screenings against this move. The festival brought different societies together and reminded the students of the Baraka culture, and the students embraced the Braka culture.

In a similar act, the Rectorate, by using the pandemic as an excuse, announced that the Amphitheater in METU Faculty of Architecture, which the performing arts societies have used for thirty years, would not be allowed to be used. Closing the Amphitheater to the students, where the performance groups do their work and exhibit their activities, was not acceptable for the demonstration groups or other METU components. However, participation in the Amphitheater Festival, which was organized to protect the culture of the performance groups, was high.

Film approval requirement for the Cinema Club

The METU Cinema Club became one of the societies that felt the pressure and restriction policy of the METU Rectorate the most. This year, the use of projection, camera, and sound devices that the Cinema Club can use for their screenings became conditional upon the notification and approval of the film being shown to the Office of Cultural Affairs. Later, the office said that the Cinema Club would not be able to use the projection ever again on the grounds that the Baraka building, in which the club room was located, was not safe.

During the METU Film Festival organized by the METU Cinema Club, the group that wanted to get permission to screen at the U3 lecture hall was directed to the Physics Department by the Cultural Affairs. “The responsibility of the lecture hall belongs to the Rectorate, not to us,” the Physics Department replied; thus club contacted the Rectorate. The Rectorate re-directed the group back to the Office of Cultural Affairs, which revealed the functioning of the bureaucracy at METU and the difficulties faced by the societies while trying to organize events.

METU Cinema Club members who consider the restrictions as steps toward censorship overcame these obstacles by borrowing projections from other student societies such as the Environmental Society and the Economics Society and by being in solidarity with other communities on every issue.

Lecture room fees were requested for TÜOBİK

The Economics Society was another student club that experienced how the METU administration made it difficult to organize student events this year. Nevertheless, the 20th Turkish University Students Independent Economics Congress (TÜÖBİK), hosted by the METU Economics Society in March, was held with the students’ efforts despite all the obstacles encountered during the preparation. From the very first moment, it was clear that the congress would be held at METU; the METU Economics Society organized fairs and activities such as donation campaigns at different universities to finance the 20th TÜOBİK

On the other hand, the METU Rectorate put obstacles against the Economics Society to benefit financially from the congress instead of supporting it, which students organized from scratch. The administration stated that they would not allocate any classroom for congress but could give for a certain fee. In addition, the administration asked bookstores that would open stands to sell books during the Congress to pay for their booths.

From the very first moment, it was clear that the congress would be held at METU; the METU Economics Society organized fairs and activities such as donation campaigns at different universities to finance the 20th TÜOBİK.

The Environmental Society’s event was canceled due to an ‘irrelevant speaker’

The METU Environmental Society became one of the communities the Rectorate blocked from organizing events like in previous years. ​​The Rectorate canceled two events of the Environmental Society within a year. 

The Climate Crisis and Social Impacts Panel, organized by the Environment Society for Pride Month, was canceled by the Rectorate on the grounds that the speakers and their associations were not related to the subject and purpose of the event. Likewise, in 2019, the administration didn’t let the club hold the Queer Ecology event “What is queer?”, “What does ecology have to do with gender?” under such pretext. 

Noting that the speakers were deliberately selected to deal with the effects of the climate crisis in an intersectional way, the members of the Environmental Society said as a strategic move of the rectorate, and they were informed that the panel was canceled only two days before the event. Just a few months ago, The Climate Crisis and Gender Workshop of the Environmental Society was similarly canceled because the event topic was irrelevant to the community. The Environmental Society did not accept the impositions of the Rectorate, called everyone for solidarity, and held its activities on the planned dates.

10th METU Pride Parade ban and police attack

The Rectorate not only hindered the activities of student societies but also tried to prevent them from creating spaces where LGBTIQAA+ students could come together. The METU LGBTIQAA+ Solidarity’s application to establish an official community was repeatedly rejected. In an e-mail sent before the 10th METU Pride Parade, the METU administration announced the march would not be allowed and claimed that “it will harm the peaceful image of the university.” Mentioning LGBTIQAA+’s as “a certain group” in the e-mail, the Rectorate stated that all kinds of security measures would be taken in case the march took place. Prior to the rally, pre-allowed visitors were prevented from entering the campus.

Despite the Rectorate’s threats, METU students again used their constitutional rights and held the 10th METU Pride Parade. Unfortunately, the police intensely intervened in the march, beat the students, and detained nearly 40 people. The Rectorate’s LGBTIQAA+ phobic attitude and the police intervention received a significant reaction from METU components. The METU Rectorate, which tried to prevent the activities of the LGBTIQAA+s in METU, also failed this year. The Rainbow Stairs, painted gray by the METU administration, were repainted in rainbow colors. During Pride Week, student societies held various activities, shouted slogans at the Pride Parade, and colorfully painted the campus.

Students did not accept the bans

Like every year, students reacted to the pressure exerted by the METU Rectorate on the student societies and showed that they do not accept this attitude of the Rectorate. By organizing festivals, holding activities in the open air, organizing interdisciplinary events with other communities, helping each other with equipment, and many different ways, the METU student societies opposed Rectorate’s pressure and restraint practices.

*July 2022

**News İmage:Doğu Erbaş/Evrensel

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