When you visit LSE’s website, you are met with a statement. In a large box, right in the centre of the screen, text reads: “LSE was founded with the aim of understanding the causes of things and for the betterment of society”.
The “betterment of society” has been a longstanding focal point of LSE’s identity. The school was founded in 1895 by members of the Fabian society, a democratic socialist organisation, with the purpose of alleviating social ills and developing a more promising society for all of its members.
If the betterment of society is, as is so frequently claimed, the mission statement of LSE, questions should be raised about a recent replacement of library benches. The switch has been made from long metal benches, to wooden benches, which are interrupted by a series of arm rests. At first glance, this seems futile. It isn’t. The change appears to be a concerted effort by LSE’s management to prevent the homeless from being able to sleep there, removing one of the better sheltered locations available to rough sleepers.
Anti-homeless architecture is, I believe, one of the cruellest hallmarks of a society focused more on maintaining aesthetics than helping those most in need. The LSE Library benches join a growing list of hostile spaces across London, from spiked flooring to perch benches – deliberate and callous rejections of vulnerable persons.
Rough sleepers have no known track record of causing problems at the School. One student remarked that the only interaction she’d had with homeless communities on campus was when a woman asked that, if she wasn’t too busy, could she print a form for commercial squatting rights.
If the homeless are an eyesore, well, they should be. They are a constant and harrowing reminder of a system which fails so many, a support network across housing, mental health, and employment which allows citizens to fall through the net. They should not be, as LSE would like, invisible. Undoubtedly, we should seek to get the homeless off streets, doorways and library benches, but not because they are an nuisance – because they are human.
I was attracted to LSE because of its promise to work towards the “betterment of society”, a mission statement which is being trodden under the feet of its current administration. The School’s self-promotion as a centre for social improvement is confined to a baseless academic exercise unless it practices what it preaches. Teaching students the value of social advancement whilst shunning homeless people from the streets outside relegates the School’s message to a laughable and ironic farce.
Considering its treatment of outsourced cleaners, staff victims of homophobia, and now local homeless, I am ashamed to belong to an institution which callously maltreats the most vulnerable in the society it once promised to improve.
To get involved, sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/london-school-of-economics-remove-new-armrests-from-lse-library-benches-and-reject-anti-homeless-architecture
Alternatively, contact your staff members. A draft letter written by students is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSIwq2Q4YMS71votS-xUpCVvuO0_pMKZ9xSLkFTwfcV8BJznC3SEomMWhU4pUInZodvdlfPZA8YAa8z/pub