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Hallam University generated 190 pages of records on rent strike organiser

A transparency request submitted by a student has revealed high-level concern within the university about political activity on campus.

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Sheffield Hallam University declined to comment on this story.

David White on Unsplash.

A Sheffield Hallam student who helped organise a rent strike earlier this year has found that the university generated 190 pages of records about him and his political activity on campus.

Zac Larkham submitted a subject access request for records held about him by the university, and discovered that senior members of staff have been tracking his personal Twitter account as well as his whereabouts on campus.

In one email from July, an unidentified staff member at Corporate Services appears to ask a colleague whether they could find out "on the downlow" whether Larkham was on campus.

"Back onsite and has been seen yesterday and today," responds the recipient within seven minutes.

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An email from the Group Director of Estates and Facilities to the Dean of Students, dated 4 May 2021.

"I think it’s really disturbing the university have stalked their students like this – if it was done by a person I’d be getting a restraining order against them," Larkham told Now Then.

"Students should be angry at this because instead of helping and supporting us through the pandemic, they chose to follow students around."

In April students at Sheffield Hallam occupied two of the university's buildings in protest at unfair rent demands during lockdown, as well as what they describe as a lack of support from university management.

The protests came after students were made to pay thousands of pounds for rooms in halls of residence they were not legally allowed to travel to during the post-Christmas lockdown.

The occupation lasted from 22 April to 11 May, and Larkham was fined £150 for breaking a window, which he denies. He's currently appealing the fine to the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education.

"Zak Larkham's twitter feed is worth a look if youve not looked at this already," the Director of Estates and Facilities wrote to the Dean of Students on 4 May.

"Some insightful comments about the Students Union and also other tweets clearly identifying himself as one of the occupiers."

Two days later, the same person recommends to other senior leaders that the university take a copy of the Twitter accounts for both Larkham and the rent strike on the basis that it could be "useful evidence."

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Emails between unknown staff at Sheffield Hallam, tracking Larkham's whereabouts on campus.

Before the occupation, the Vice-Chancellor emailed the Dean of Academic Strategy in March to say: "No surprise here - Zac the rent strike leader is standing for SU [Students' Union] president" (Larkham came second).

One lengthy email from March between senior members of staff is almost entirely redacted, except for the words "[w]e also have to be really careful as [...] of the students are key figures within the rent strike (including Zac.)"

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Zac Larkham.

We asked Sheffield Hallam University to show us the redacted parts of the email, but they declined.

The emails raise questions about the university's priorities, with The Times reporting in July that students experienced 126 cases of sexual harassment between September 2020 and April this year.

Larkham says he has friends at the university who have been victims of sexual violence and others who have had serious mental health problems.

In a tweet, the Hallam branch of the UCU union said they were "very concerned by the tactics and language used" in the emails, and questioned the "necessity and proportionality" of data sharing between landlords and the university.

"Last year the university closed down the student bar and cafe, our mental health services are severely underfunded and sexual harassment is widespread," said Larkham, after we asked what the university should be focusing on instead.

"Recently students have noticed a rise in spikings at clubs, including by injection, and the university has done nothing to inform students and help us stay safe."

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An email about Larkham and the rent strike that was almost entirely redacted. Now Then asked the university to show us the redacted parts of the email, but they declined.

"It’s not good enough from an institution that has the time and resources to help if it wanted to."

Now Then asked Sheffield Hallam University to comment on this story, but they declined.

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