The lockdown strangely has been a busy time of finding new ways to connect with family, friends and work. It took the University two days to transition to online teaching and while I miss the classroom these online events have created a new creative spirit between lecturers and students. I am full of admiration for the resilience that students have shown in responding to the pandemic.
To me the most important features of our UEL community is its internationalism and multiculturalism. My current students are drawn from East London but also from India, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana and the from the Syrian migrant community. My own connection to the area comes from my maternal grandparents who arrived from the Russian Empire at the beginning of the 20th century, both living in Brick Lane. My grandfather would be amazed that the house where he lived when he married my grandmother is now a club. East London’s accommodation of migrants has always meant that it’s a locality connected to the world. The university reflects this.
I have taught at the university for 45 years. From the start we wanted to build a law school that would be inclusive, and we made special efforts to recruit women and ethnic minority students – which was unusual in 1975. We focused on human education and research, which remains a theme of our degree programmes. When I started teaching international law, I was particularly keen to encourage students to engage with the world. This included taking them on international study tours to legal institutions in The Hague, Luxembourg, New York, Washington, Moscow, Istanbul and Johannesburg.
Despite having been based in East London for so long, I also lived in Cairo on sabbatical, working on a project on Islamic law. In addition, I have been a visiting lecturer at the International Institute of Social Studies at The Hague in the 1980s, a visiting professor at the Institute of Law of Birzeit University in Palestine (1996-2006) and in 2007 visiting professor of law International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
The lockdown has not stopped these international relationships. I have had remote "office hours" with students in the Netherlands, Germany and India, engaged in several online seminars with fellow academics in Australia, the US and Israel, and I spoke at an online debate with the American law professor on the proposed Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. Whether on campus or remotely the University of East London is a local institution with great international connections.
John Strawson is Professor of Law at University of East London.