Animal rights protest group SPEAK staged the first of a series of protests against animal testing this week. The demonstrations are to coincide with the Degree Day ceremonies being held at the Sheldonian theatre this month.

Vice-Chancellor John Hood, who normally ignores the group’s disruption, responded to the demonstration.
Ben Maling, a graduate present said, “John Hood made a very diplomatic speech defending the right to a legal protest (such as Saturday’s), but feeling that it was a shame to target an event that holds such importance for so many people.”

Another graduate, Laurent Guillemain added that John Hood’s speech, apologizing for the noise, lightened the mood in the Sheldonian, and “seemed to make the parents much happier.”

The group claimed their protests intended to draw attention to the alleged ‘abuse and fear’ experienced by animals involved in medical experiments through at the University.

An estimated 25 protestors gave out leaflets and shouted slogans for the length of the ceremony, which took place on Saturday. Police were in attendance, surveying the demonstrators.

Many graduates felt that the timing of the protests was highly unsuitable.

Guillemain commented, “We could hear the protestors inside the Sheldonian, and I think it was especially disruptive for the parents, as it’s a day they were very proud of. It’s a ridiculous attempt by the protestors to try and get one back on the university, as it’s the students and parents that ultimately get targeted.”

Maling felt the chanting was unacceptable. He said, “I attended the ceremony on Saturday, and as a result I was subjected to all the protestors’ chants on the way in. During the ceremony they became louder but the ceremony carried on as it should have.”

SPEAK’s website justified the protests. It said, “Whilst for some people the degree ceremonies are about celebrating their academic achievements, for the animals imprisoned inside Oxford University’s labs it is just another day of abuse and fear, waiting to die in painful and pointless experiments.”

However, many students questioned the choice of date and occasion for the protest. Rebecca Tibbs, first year biochemist said, “How many people graduating were actually involved in the sciences which make use of animal testing? It doesn’t seem that productive to disrupt a whole group of graduates celebrating their time at Oxford, most of who are probably indifferent, or even supportive, of the protest group’s cause.”

Earlier this year, SPEAK handed a 65,000-signature petition to the University. This condemned all animal testing, in particular the new Oxford University Biomedical Sciences Centre.

Further protests are planned for the next two Degree Days, as well as an honorary degree ceremony in June.