Safe Student Activism

If you receive an allegation of general misconduct or other notice regarding the protest from the University - get in touch with us here.

UMSU has a great and infamous history of political activism that includes everything from creating alternative spaces for women excluded from lectures in 1888, land rights for First Nations people, anti-apartheid in South Africa to conscientious objectors to the draft during the Vietnam War… just to name a few! See The History of Our Union page if you’re curious to know more.

UniMelb Pro-Palestine Encampment May 2024 - taken and used with permission

Part of attending university is a process of becoming – becoming professionals in a chosen field and becoming local and global citizens. There is a rich tradition of students practicing civic rights and responsibilities, and sometimes exercising their right to raise awareness about issues through demonstrations and attempting to change laws and policies through protests.

There is space to engage with student activism on campus. We are here to support your right to protest, and we want you to do it with your eyes open, so you are making informed choices about what you do when – so here are some things to keep in mind when protesting or demonstrating in a safe, legal, and peaceful way.

The right to disagree, respectfully.

The University make clear that it upholds the principles of academic freedom, the right to disagree respectfully, and student activism on campus. You can see their statement on these principles here.

The University draws a clear line however, between peaceful and non-intrusive protests and those actions which may stop other members of the university community from participating fully in university life. The University also makes it clear that it will not tolerate any actions or behaviours which may vilify others, incite violence or intimidation.

So, when exercising your right to protest or demonstrate, it’s important to understand that the University does create some limits. If there is a complaint and the University believes that your actions may create an unsafe environment for other staff and students, or that your actions or words are seen to be abusive or disparaging, then you may face a formal allegation of general misconduct under the Student Conduct Policy. The consequences of substantiated misconduct can range from a formal warning to termination of your enrolment at the University. So be aware.

Lights! Camera! Action!

As the motivational fridge magnet goes - sing like there’s nobody listening, protest like there’s somebody watching! There are CCTV cameras all over campus which may be recording your actions, night and day. The University refers to their existence on their webpages here and here. and predominantly, they are used to ensure safety for students and staff on campus.

In our experience in assisting students who have been issued a formal allegation of general misconduct, we have found that the University will use conduct caught on camera as evidence to support an allegation against the student.  

If the matter is serious, the University may also decide to submit this footage to police who then have the option to investigate and may lay criminal charges.

Can security ask for my details?

In short, yes, they can. Should this happen, it is advisable to provide your details to them.

Section 5.3 of the Property Policy (MPF1115) states that all students, staff, visitors, and contractors must assist university staff with physical security responsibilities at all times as directed. Failure to do so in itself may result in a revocation of right to access campus and end up in a general misconduct allegation.

Campus Rulz

Here are some other things to keep in mind.

When enrolling at the University, many students are unaware that this also constitutes agreement to abide by the policies set out by the University and in the Student Charter.

The Student Charter sets out the rights and obligations you have as a student.

Of note (without referring to the whole list), the University expects students to:

  • act as good ambassadors for the University when engaging with local and global communities,
  • demonstrate respect for the freedoms, rights of others to express political or religious views and understanding that such freedoms and rights may be limited in some circumstances,
  • recognise that rights to freedom of expression come with a shared responsibility to uphold and acknowledge the rights of others,
  • demonstrate respect for university resources and the campus environment, and to
  • comply with the University’s policies and procedures.


So, one of the express obligations of a student at this University is that they have agreed to abide by the university’s policies and procedures upon enrolling in their course.

The Student Conduct Policy (MPF1324) sets out the conduct it expects from students on campus, using the University’s facilities and in relation to their activities at the University.

Any conduct that endangers staff and students or does not comply with Australian laws or the university’s regulatory framework may attract a general misconduct allegation.

Any conduct that results in the destruction of university property is also likely to attract such an allegation.

Penalties for upheld allegations are set out in the Vice-Chancellor Regulations, and include a written caution and/or reprimand, issuing fines, placing sanctions on enrolment, exclusion from university facilities, and the suspension and termination of enrolment (expulsion).

These penalties may also have an impact on your future studies, here and elsewhere and are disclosable to relevant industry registration bodies.

Not Everywhere on Campus is On Campus

It’s also important to be aware that there are some places which seem like they are part of the University, governed by the Uni’s rules and policies – but they ain’t. A number of the residential colleges are actually private property and governed by the college’s own rules. If you are doing any activism within a college or on college grounds, make sure you are aware of the college’s rules and approach to what you’re doing!

Who Called the Cops?!

There is an erroneous, but persistent myth around the University that Victoria Police cannot enter the campus, or that the police are restricted from attending campus in some way or another.


It’s always important to interact with the police carefully. This is true for a range of reasons, but mainly because failure to do so will almost always put you in a worse position. However, you do have rights in relation to the police. The UMSU Legal Service can assist with information, advice and referral, and a comprehensive guide to police powers can be found on the Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) Website here. The VLA also produce a handy dandy “street law wallet card” which you may want to print and carry with you when you’re exercising your right to protest.

If you are involved in an organised protest the police "move-on" powers which authorise them to direct a person to leave a public place - do not apply - that is these powers cannot be used in relation to protesters.  

HOWEVER there are still a number of charges police can use during a protest, including obstruction, trespass and property damage. Fitzroy Legal Service has a comprehensive description of common charges associated with protests. 

Be bold, but safe peoples!

We never want to dissuade students from activism – we love a good demo and protest! We do hope this information helps you understand the rules of the engagement so you can stay safe.

Contact Advocacy

If you have any questions regarding this information or you have received an allegation of general misconduct, let us know via our contact form.