Friday, 21 December 2012

Driving Home for Christmas

Well apparently I just linked my blog up with my Google Plus profile. This is the most excellent use of time before the world ends, I'm sure you'll agree.

As is my interpretation of Chris Rea's Christmas (s)hit, 'Driving Home for Christmas'. Which I'm sure you've all already heard 1000 times by now inbetween queuing to buy tat and attending 'festive' work 'parties', but I'll post a link for the miraculously uninitiated anyway:

In a nutshell, my lyrical analytic conclusion stands thus:

The whole song is one big sexual metaphor and Chris Rea is a massive pervert.

Some evidence of Rea being linked with kink:

In Greek mythology, Rhea was the daughter of sky god Uranus.

This picture of Rheas:

Clearly a filthy exhibitionist.

And finally, my annotated version of the depraved lyrics:

Driving home for Christmas

Driving what into what

Oh, I can't wait to see those faces

I'm driving home for Christmas, yea

Well I'm moving down that line

And it's been so long

Since I got laid

But I will be there

I sing this song

To pass the time away

Driving in my car

Driving home for Christmas

It's gonna take some time

But I'll get there

He suffers from erectile dysfunction, a condition which also affects Chris Brown, as documented by that unforgettable Rihanna song, 'Rude Boy'.

Top to toe in tail-lights

Top-to-toe in TAIL, more like. Amirite?!

Oh, I got red lights on the run

ROOOOOOOOXANNE!

Always use protection when in the presence of red lights. And when in the presence of Chris Rea.

But soon there'll be a freeway

That last word is surely misspelt.

Get my feet on holy ground

Sudden Christ(mas)-induced shame?

So I sing for you

Though you can't hear me

Because my mouth is attached to your vagina and/or penis.

When I get through

And feel you near me

Oh. My. God.

I am driving home for Christmas

Driving home for Christmas

With a thousand memories

A.K.A. WANK BANK.

I take look at the driver next to me

He's just the same

Just the same

The world is full of perverts. Voyeurs watching voyeurs.

Top to toe in tail-lights

Oh, I got red lights on the run

I'm driving home for Christmas, yea

Get my feet on holy ground

So I sing for you

Though you can't hear me

When I get trough

And feel you near me

Driving in my car

Driving home for Christmas

Driving home for Christmas

With a thousand memories

The insistent ramblings of a depraved sex addict who's clearly seen Crash too many times.

The day after I started drafting this insightful piece, comedian Brian Limond tweeted his own variant:

(Angry Badger clearly angry there at the possibility of Limmy selling 'oot' by tweeting Christmassy things at Christmastime. Tut tut, Limmy)

Le Sigh.

Merry Christmas or happy holidays or Yappy Yule Log or whatever the heck you wanna call it. Take yer pick. Be careful on the roads when you're driving home for Christmuff. And a happy New Year, assuming we make it through the Mayan Apocalypse.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Lucy Mangan is...

'Outspoken'.

Outspokeness looks extremely mild-mannered these days.

I'd always felt ambivalent towards Lucy Mangan's columns in Stylist. Until she went on maternity leave and Tanya Gold wrote her misguided column on chavs. My reactions to this column are mirrored on jessicajanescribbles. And again here.

But as usual, a paragraph in and I'm already digressing.

I remained wary of Ms Mangan's writing because I was so distracted by her feet:

THE HORROR

Seriously. What are those things?

It was like staring into a web-footed enveloping blackness, akin to watching an episode of Later with Jools Holland.

Then she popped a sprog and returned with a similarly sack-like dress, a new 'do, a bright and breezy smile...and most importantly, FEET.

Discernible shoes and feet, oh my!

Lucy Mangan is back. Lucy Mangan appears anatomically correct. Lucy Mangan is encouraging discussion and highlighting topical issues, instead of drawing us in to fungal shadows.

(It's still unfair that Shortlist readers get Danny Wallace though.)

I have just undone all the good feminist work I've done by criticising a woman solely on her appearance.

But I assure ye:

Sunday, 9 December 2012

University Responses to Freshers' Week Sexism: Conclusion

A last minute response from the University of Brighton.

University of Brighton:

I do apologise for not getting back to you earlier. The start of term is always incredibly busy. I firstly wanted to say that these events are organised by an external company called Carnage and have nothing whatsoever to do with universities or their students’ union. We do not endorse these events.

At the University of Brighton we are mindful of our responsibility to the community and to the health, safety and wellbeing of our students. We work proactively to tackle any problems with regards to student disruption and noise before they become issues. We have assigned our own police officer and PCSO to work with neighbourhood policing teams across the county. This puts us in a good position to deal with any potential problems swiftly. We also work closely with Environmental Health Teams in the towns in which we operate. We also have a community liaison team which works with local communities.

Many of our students undertake volunteering work as part of their courses and large numbers of our students are working in the community as trainee teachers, nurses and doctors, giving back to the city.

That sounds like someone very accustomed to supplying responses to local paper The Argus' commenters' negativity towards students.

I'll warrant it's probably the same with local papers all over the country. Every September/October time students fill up the cities with vomit and tight trousers and fashionable hairdos that they got with an NHS discount from Toni & Guy and residents moan away. But it's good for local businesses. So whadja gonna do. The students are revolting.

Word Cloud - idea from Dan Leech

I ended up creating a standard reply to the Universities:

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond to my letter.

I am delighted about the positive action you are taking and I hope you continue to see similarly positive results.

It appears from the majority of replies I have received so far that it is largely external companies such as Carnage, that are at fault, rather than Student Unions themselves, so I'll be tackling these in due course. In the meantime if you know of any other companies promoting distasteful events you think I should be writing to please feel free to get in touch.

Thanks again for responding in what I know is a very busy time of year for Universities.

I think it's fairly clear I've been committing the very act I've been so annoyed at others for doing: preaching to the converted. Of course Union Reps have the students' best interests at heart. It's companies such as Carnage, whose name has popped up time and time again, that need to be told to change.

But there's always money to be found in portraying females as sex objects. Men enjoy it, some women enjoy playing the role. It would take decades of conditioning to change this. Feminism should perhaps be taught in schools, alongside sex education perhaps.

I'm now going to sound like a pensioner and say a thing the teenage me would wince at; but today's role models aren't helping.

I mean, what the fuck, Ri-Ri.

Take a gander at this 'ere police report about the altercation involving her talentless douchebag of a boy-'friend', Chris Brown.

Actually Laura Bates had a word to say about Chris Brown as well.

This is normalisation of sexist attitudes and it should fucking stop.

What next? My plan is to take a break from this for a while, then perhaps write to local Councils, research events organisers such as C*rn*g* and write to them also to ask what the fuck they think they're up to, perhaps interview students to ask if their opinion of their University differs from the modern, politically correct, all-inclusive sanctuary that press officers and marketing departments spend so long honing and promoting.

I think the lesson to be learnt here is to choose who to attack wisely. No point blowing a load of hot air in the face of someone on your side.

Unfortunately I couldn't go on the Reclaim the Night walk (other obligations and the sciatica - which is easing up actually, I'm pleased to report - getting in the way). All good stuff, but as commenters point out, why do this in a place as relaxed and tolerant as Brighton? Preaching to the converted. Again.

Last week I went for a walk before work and was harrassed. I stopped to take a picture of a shoe tree.

SHOE TREE!

A guy came up to me and asked me to take a picture of him with the tree. Then he had a chat about the shoe tree and the restoration of the Level, practically standing on my shoes as he did so. I sensed something a little odd about him. He said, "are you going this way?" I lied and said I was going the other way. He decided to walk with me. Then he took a picture of me and muttered something about 'hot'. I eventually escaped, lying again that I'd be late for work.

I get some form of this on a weekly basis. I think having funny-coloured hair makes every weird fucker think they can chat me up. I know I'm not supposed to do the 'blaming' thing but let's be realistic here. Still, I'm not going to alter my appearance accordingly, I'm just going to change the way I deal with these people. Like not allowing them to take pictures of me. Next time your phone's going up in the tree as well mate.

I don't plan on having children myself, but I'd like to do little things here and there to improve matters for the next generation. Like writing to every University in the country to ask 'wtf'. Hopefully this will inspire people to commit similar acts.

And now I shall return to blogging about make up and drinking games.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Eight

Southampton Solent University:

Thank you for your email.

Solent University is primarily concerned with providing a quality educational experience for students. Student safety and welfare are also of great importance to the University and therefore we do not endorse any such external events as those listed. We would like to note our disappointment at how they are marketed to young audiences including students and non-students.

The University, alongside our Students 1st information service and Solent Students’ Union, actively promotes awareness of equality and diversity, personal safety and crime prevention both on and off campus in conjunction with the local authorities.

Solent Students' Union does not undertake the activities listed other than to offer condoms in line with their safe sex policy; the thought behind this is that many students are away from home for the first time and may not have the confidence to go and buy contraception.

We hope the above information clarifies our response to your comments.

Prifysgol Cymru/University of Wales:

Thank you for your email.

The University of Wales does not in fact have a Student Union or a Campus as it is simply a degree awarding body and therefore an administrative base. Although it does currently award the degrees for many students in Wales, students study for a University of Wales award at independent Universities such as Swansea Metropolitan University or University of Wales: Trinity Saint David. The individual institutions are responsible for their own Student Unions and student Welfare.

I will pass your letter on to my colleagues in these institutions, who I am sure will contact you if they feel it is appropriate.

Oops. My bad.

King's College London:

Thank you for your enquiry.

The King’s College London Student’s Union (KCLSU) do not run any events explicitly encouraging promiscuity as mentioned in your letter, although some of our student groups as well as the health centre do give out free contraceptives, which we view as a sensible preventative measure. Were any of our student groups to do anything grossly offensive then this would be taken up by the College’s disciplinary/complaints procedures.

You might want to take a look at our equalities policies which we take very seriously and can be found on these pages.

Staff and students can also make complaints of harassment should they experience anything on campus that they find offensive.

Follow-Up Correspondence from Liverpool:

I would say across the sector Student Unions’ are largely beginning to tackle this issue internally and there is a much bigger external battle to be had with the external companies such as Carnage who I know the NUS are working hard to try and shut down. Any support would be welcome I am sure.

From Carnage's Wikipedia page:

Incidents: "In 2008 a student at the University of Bath hanged himself behind a nightclub during an event organised by Carnage UK."

"In October 2009, A Sports Technology student at Sheffield Hallam University, was photographed urinating[3] on a war memorial in Barker's Pool after drinking for several hours on a bar crawl organised by Carnage UK."

"In March 2009, a 61-year-old man was assaulted by one of its organisers after he asked about arrangements regarding to the event."

University of Kent:

Thank you again for taking the time to write that letter – it’s an incredibly important issue and I’m glad people are coming forward to discuss it.

I completely agree with all the sentiments you’ve raised – the objectification of women is a huge issue within our society and is a growing issue on our campuses around the country.

To tackle the issue of the article on the incident that occurred at our University, below is Kent Union’s statement from our website below:

We are sorry to any students attending the hypnotist event at Coopers Bar on the 23rd September 2012 who may have been offended by some elements of the show's content or style. Following the Medwire article on 25th September, we promptly conducted a full investigation and found that although no formal complaints have been made and no one walked out on the evening, there were elements of the show that we consider to have been inappropriate. We will not be booking this act again and have since reviewed our event booking procedures. Kent Union remains committed to our values and our zero tolerance to sexual harassment and discrimination policy and can only further apologise for failing on this occasion.

If there are any students who have been affected by this issue and would like to talk to someone, please contact our Vice-President (Welfare) Colum McGuire on union-welfare@kent.ac.uk who will be able to assist.

I think we clearly made a mistake here – though I do believe the media did spin this out of control and produced an inaccurate report of the incident. Nevertheless, we won’t be inviting that act back and I’m certainly taking a much harder line on our staff and the checks they do on the acts that we book.

I did say we'd be returning to the subject of the media putting a spin on things. There you go.

I guess in this case it's been worthwhile as people have sat up and paid attention to the content of Freshers Week, and I wouldn't've done all this investigation if I hadn't read that article in the first place.

The disadvantage is, of course, the risk of claims of actual harassment not being taken seriously.

Last year I introduced a zero tolerance to sexual harassment and discrimination policy, particularly focussing on our Venue nightclub, in Kent Union which I completely stand by. You can read more about that here - (I think I may have included that to you in the last email). I take a very hard line on the types of things are/are not allowed within our commercial services – you will never see advertising of our events that objectifies women or themes that trivialise women’s issues. I believe that is something we can pride ourselves on at Kent Union, as although there as so much nightclubs/bars etc out there that completely break moral barriers I’m glad that we provide a space for our students that will not result to that. I’m also currently working on a policy that will ban any ‘lads mags’ from our shop too, and we recently objected to Carnage who held a ‘Pimps & Hoes’ themed event which I thought was disgusting.

I hope that is some of some reassurance that we take the issues you’ve outlined very seriously and sadly let something fall through the net at the beginning of this year.

If there’s anything further you’d like to discuss please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I'd like to discuss why I chose to go to flippin' Christ Church and not Kent :(

That was the last reply.

I'll be bashing out some sort of conclusion in the next few days hopefully, although I've sprinkled these entries with my own commentary throughout anyway. (Go back and read if you think you may've missed them!) But as far as copying and pasting goes,

Friday, 9 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Seven

St George's University of London:

Thanks alot for your email, it made for a very interesting read. I think that so far our students activities have managed to avoid the nature of events described in your letter but I will be sure to be consider this view when planning in future.

Well...a result of sorts, but...

ALOT?!!!

The actual fuck?

Look, I don't care if you're studying English Literature or 'Sports Science', if you get to University level you should know that there's no such word as 'alot'. Jesus wept. No, wait, Jesus not only wept, he wept so much he drowned all of the illiterate people in his holy salty tears. If only. 'king hell.

The Alot

University of Wolverhampton:

Thank you for your email expressing your concerns. I am the President of the University of Wolverhampton Students’ Union and wanted to reply to you personally.

I also read the Independent article and raised my own concerns regarding the titles of club nights. As a non-commercial Union we do not hold club nights on any of our premises, and as such make commercial links with local clubs/bars who we believe offer the safest drinking/clubbing nights in the locality. Following on from the article, I have expressed alongside the executive that we need to ensure that we are more attentive to the titles of club nights run externally when signing commercial contracts.

As a non-commercial Union our emphasis is primarily on the welfare of our Students, and ensuring that their time at this university is fulfilling. In regards to any sexual health campaigns, we ensure that these are run throughout the year and not focussed on fresher’s week. We run many campaigns during the year which focus on the health and wellbeing of our students. My Welfare Vice President (Iwuese Nyager) is committed to continuing the promotion of sexual health amongst other health campaigns.

The concerns you raised are valid and I would like to thank you for contacting this Union requesting a response.

I hope my email answers a number of your queries.

University of the Highlands and Islands:

Firstly, what an awesome name for a University. It rhymes! I'd go there just on that basis.

Thank you for your letter dated 15th October 2012 which has been passed to me to offer an institutional response from the University of the Highlands and Islands.

I note the contents of your letter and the concerns you raise about the reported activities of students during student ‘Freshers Weeks’. I also note that your accompanying email states that you offer your "sincere apologies if you feel the nature of Freshers' Week events described therein do not apply to student events arranged at the University of the Highlands and Islands."

That, indeed, is the case: I have no evidence whatsoever that there have been any such activities during induction at any of the UHI Academic Partners. If you have any evidence to the contrary, then I would be extremely keen to learn more from you.

UHI is a distributed university covering half the land mass of Scotland, with 13 Academic Partner colleges and specialised research institutions. Many of our students live in some of the most remote areas of the country. Most of our students are aged over 25 years and most study on a part-time basis. Most of our students are female. We are unlike traditional universities in many ways, one of these being the traditional idea of a ‘Freshers Week’ covering all students in one location. We are passionately committed to offering equality of opportunity and a positive learning experience for every single one of our students.

I appreciate you taking the time to outline your concerns and I completely agree with your point about the importance of respect and equality for both sexes. I am glad to say, however, that the problems you have described do not have resonance within the University of the Highlands and Islands.

University of Southampton:

Thank you for contacting us here at SUSU and the University of Southampton; I apologise for the delay in responding to you, unfortunately it has been a very busy week for us!

I completely understand your concerns and I’m very pleased that you’re approaching student unions about this issue. I’d like to put your mind at ease and tell you that at SUSU, events like this are not arranged by us nor are they encouraged on our premises. Through my job as Vice President Welfare and Communities, I spoke out about events like this and was quoted on the BBC website. Our Events team always check event ideas with the sabbatical officers before promoting them and we have policy that states we must not discriminate or ostracise any student groups, which I believe protects female students from this type of event.

Were there any specific events that you saw happening from SUSU that made you feel uncomfortable? Are you a student here?

Nope.

University of the West of Scotland:

Many thanks for your email where you outlined your concern about the excessive drinking and alleged sexist activities organized throughout our Freshers’ lineup.

No. Not yours specifically. Nobody understands what a standard letter is anymore. Jesus is all cried out so I'll cry in his place. WAH.

SAUWS operates under a strict safe policy whereby all our events have to be open and a safe place for people to come to regardless of their background. Therefore, all our events are audited to make sure that they don’t offend any one of our students. In addition, SAUWS actively promotes to our customers that they should be drinking sensibly and throughout the year we will advise students of how much they drink and what effects it could have on you. Furthermore, this year SAUWS is working towards achieving a ‘Best Bar None’ award which celebrates those pubs which do promote safe drinking amongst their customer base.

We do promote safe sex amongst students and this includes being distributing condoms to students. This is supported by various other organizations as well as the University. In addition, I can safely say that our Students’ Association would never organize a night out which has such a direct message as ‘Pop your Cherry’; this would be an example of where we take thought of how a themed night out could offend a section of our diverse student population. In addition, our Women’s Group would take issue if we were to organize such a grotesque event. Throughout the year, we do regularly campaign on women’s rights, including raising awareness of rape and the disappointing attitudes towards it.

Our Freshers’ line up does not entirely revolve around alcohol consumption as we don’t organize sporting activities; as well as forms of entertainment such as environmental education events.

I hope that the above response will prove comfort to you and if there is any other information that you require then please get in touch.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Six

Keele University:

Thank you for your letter of concern surrounding sexist themed events being put on during University Freshers’ Week. Please allow us, both the Students’ Union and University, to put your mind at ease by highlighting the inclusive approach we take to supporting and welcoming our new and returning students to Keele University.

Having read Laura Bates’ article, which was flagged up by Welfare and Community officers from other Unions, we understand and share the concerns surrounding women and female students during their time at University. We also agree with the point that you make on lasting consequences of your welcome to University life throughout your degree programme. As Students’ Union and University we share the aim to deliver an inclusive welcome experience for all students. We are acutely aware of the detrimental impact of a ill-prepared and poorly delivered induction programme. At Keele we are committed to ensuring that the opportunities presented to our students during the first few weeks of Semester make clear the safe, engaging and cohesive community that we strive to provide and maintain.

The University has worked hard in recent years to ensure that the Induction experience - which we view as commencing long before our students actually arrive on campus – is relevant to all students. Activities for particular student groups, across all levels of study and which provide choice are all delivered with one thing in mind -our students.

The University has recently appointed a full time Student Transitions and Support Coordinator. This new post highlights the University’s commitment to ensuring that our students are effectively supported as they negotiate their transition into University.. With increased and dedicated staff provision we are looking forward to ensuring that the good practice delivered in supporting and welcoming our new students is upheld and that constructive feedback from our students, parents and other service users is considered and used to further improve what we do. The Welcome Week/Induction programme that we currently operate at Keele covers a wide range of student activities. With the Union utilizing its high quality evening entertainment facilities available, such as our newly redeveloped alcohol free space and four bars, we are able to host both Alcoholic and non-alcoholic events including club nights, quizzes, stand-up comedy and live music nights. You can find our evening entertainment here: http://www.keelesu.com/tl_files/content/Ents/Wallplanner.pdf. Our bars have also been accredited by the NUS run ‘Best Bar None’ scheme: we’ve been finalists for the past three years, winning the award outright the past two years. This award covers a range of criteria including Drink awareness campaign visibility, mystery shopping and adherence to NUSSL policy and procedures on alcohol. KeeleSU also offers daytime events during Welcome Week including our Society and Sports Club sign up fairs, which includes a combined 140 clubs and Societies, including LGBT, Women’s and multi faith groups, which takes place over 4 days. We also have our own helpdesk, which includes information on Keele and the wider community, ran by our Advice & Support unit, ASK. These Students’ Union led events are, delivered alongside the University’s Welcome Week induction programme, which includes daytime activities such as days out to IKEA, the local cinema, Academic programme inductions and helpdesks in a central location. They also host evening entertainment at University run venues such as Talent shows, quizzes, console and games evenings, and Chapel services.

Focussing specifically on sexist events, the fancy dress themes we are hosting at the Students’ Union, as you can see from the above wall planner link, are gender neutral with fancy dress themes such as Rock Stars vs Party Animals, and Gangsters and Flappers. Our Entertainments department are always happy to take constructive feedback from our students and provide events and themes that students want at the time, which shows the fluidity of the team and department. These events also have to be approved at an Operations meeting, upon which the full time Elected Officers sit, so issues can be raised by the Vice President (Welfare) before any information is released. We are also fortunate in that the well-known external student event Carnage is no longer active on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent. After speaking with the Women’s Officer at the University of Sheffield’s Students’ Union, we understand the problems they have recently had with the ‘Pimps and Hoes’ themed Carnage that has risen. As a Students’ Union, providing effective representation is a core reason for our existence, alongside looking out for the Welfare and Educational needs of our members. For our Female Students, we have an active Women’s Society, as well as a Female Gender Representative on our Student Council. The Society exists to campaign on issues directly affecting women, as well as to provide a platform for issues at a local and national level. The Female Gender Representative is both a campaigning and support role in that this student is elected to the role by the Student body and is therefore held to account through our democratic structures in place. Pre-emptively, as a Students’ Union, we run campaigns on a range of gender related issues such as Sexual Health and Guidance, LGBT, Women and Movember (Breast/Testicular cancer). Such an example of a campaign from this year includes a joint Safety Campaign with the Borough Council and University Security, where we targeted three safety strands: Domestic abuse, personal safety and drink spiking.

The University also has a range of Equality & Diversity campaign as part of its Unity programme, and campaigns this year include a Dignity & Wellbeing Week, LGBT History Month and Women’s Week, of which the Students’ Union is an active stakeholder in many of the groups created to organise these events and campaigns. We hope that this has put your mind at rest for gender and sexuality equality at Keele University. Please do not hesitate in getting in touch with either of us for more information.

Birkbeck University of London:

Thank-you for your letter of concern about "Freshers’ Week" activities – I have also copied in Sophie Thomas, our elected Women’s Officer here at Birkbeck.

Neither the Students’ Union nor any of its recognised clubs or societies have promoted or been a part of any of the degrading and exploitative events that were described within the article in the Independent. Further, the Students’ Union actively promotes a safe space environment, has a Zero Tolerance Policy on sexism and has other policies blocking media or events which are sexist – including burlesque dancing, poll dancing and one of the policies specifically cites the "Pimps & Hoes" events which are "for sale" to students’ unions in off-the-shelf packages. Indeed, Birkbeck Students’ Union has led the fight within the National Union of Students (NUS) for NUS to stop promoting sexist and/or homophobic/transphobic events packages and negative depictions of people within the media.

University of Dundee:

The Principal passed your email to me and I will of course ensure our union is made aware of your concerns. Here we in Student services work with the union, student representatives and staff to produce a welcome week programme which is broad, inclusive, diverse and supportive. Our activities focus on positive integration into the city and campus. Feedback each year shapes the next year and I am happy that our feedback does not indicate any concern around your correspondence.

Buckinghamshire New University:

Dear Karen, thanks for getting touch about the article in the Independent, which I had previously read. We do not recognise the types of activities outlined in the article as a part of the Freshers' experience at Bucks.

Bath Spa University:

Thank you very much for your letter. At the Students’ Union we feel strongly about this matter too.

We work closely with the National Union of Students and are aware of their research on students being sexually harassed which is mentioned in The Independent. We work hard to tackle issues of discrimination and harassment on and off campus.

In order to do this, we firstly have a women’s liberation representative, who sits on our Student Council. We also have a number of full-time elected positions, me being one of those and I am responsible for welfare.

Our women’s rep is currently planning a campaign looking at low level sexual harassment within our University and our city. She will be supported by our Equal Opps committee and our staff.

Furthermore, at the Students’ Union (SU), we do not encourage themes such as ‘Pimps and Hoes’. Our elected representatives (full time sabbatical officers), who all happen to be women this year, oversee our events programmes. This year, we worked extremely hard on creating an inclusive freshers’ programme; for example we did not have gender specific themes, we had non-alcohol events such as a food fair, and we provided safe welfare messages to the students regarding alcohol harm, safe sex etc.. We also have policies that protect our students; for example, we don’t kick people out and send them home alone and we don’t do drink promotions which generally leads to bad experiences on a night out.

Beyond our building, I sit on the Night Time Economy Steering Group which allows me to influence those same messages and programmes throughout the city and encourage commercial venues to address the issues we’ve been talking about.

Of course, we are constantly re viewing these issues and our Deputy CEO is soon to meet with stakeholders to review who we invite to hold stalls at our Freshers’ Fair and what messages they promote. If you have any specific suggestions feel free to get in touch.

Couldn't ask for better than that really - kudos to Emma Weskin there. If I was to email again, I would ask Student Reps to follow her example of sitting on the 'Night Time Economy Steering Group' - or whatever the equivalent is in various cities up and down the country - so they can similarly attempt to positively influence external venues.

Royal Holloway University:

Thank your for your email and attached letter regarding the start of the new academic year within universities and The Independent article by Laura Bates.

We too were horrified by the experiences reported within this article at other universities and I am pleased to be able to advise that no such activities would ever be sanctioned here at Royal Holloway. This year we purposely moved away from the term ‘Freshers Week’ and all it’s stereotypical connotations. We have rebranded the first few days of our new academic year as ‘Welcome Week’ which we feel is a more all-encompassing term that reflects the growing diversity of the student body and which is inclusive to all students. We are well aware we have a large proportion of students who choose not to drink alcohol, not to enter licensed premises, not to enter into a sexual relationship etc for religious, cultural or personal reasons (amongst others) and their needs and expectations must be equally represented in any activities we offer. Over the first few days of term the College and Students’ Union offered a wide range of activities alongside club nights in the SU. These included the UniSmart presentation (www.rhul.ac.uk/ecampus/welfare/unismart.aspx), Sports & society taster sessions, the Abnormally Funny comedy show (http://www.abnormallyfunnypeople.com/), Dangerous Minds (a night of spoken word and poetry), local walking orientation sessions, trips to the local towns and tourist spots, quiz nights, movie nights, the student media fayre and so much more!

Another example of enforcing a positive evolution of the term 'Freshers' Week'. Like.

We keenly recognise that for the majority of new students it is their first time away from home and that it is a vulnerable and difficult time that can take some time to adjust to and so we work hard to make students feel settled but also to make sure they know where they can get help or support if they are struggling for whatever reason –socially, financially, through homesickness or any other reason. Like all universities the promotion of healthy lifestyles and safe sex campaigns is part of this, and whilst I see the dichotomy with universities who promote highly sexualised nights out, here we see these promotions as part of the all round package of welfare support and advice.

The SU also have an anti-sexual harassment policy – the Zero Tolerance Campaign – which was created as a response to the Hidden Marks campaign. The students here voted at an SU General Meeting in favour of this approach. The policy imposes a reasonable but automatic penalty for any act of sexual harassment with the aim to wipe out the unacceptable behaviour displayed by a small number by not dismissing any of it. It defines sexual harassment as any sexual behaviour that makes someone feel uncomfortable including unwanted sexual comments and inappropriate touching. For discrimination the result is a minimum six month ban from the SU. The College also has a Code of Practice on Personal Harassment and we are active in ensuring students are not in breach of this in any way and that they understand the importance of this and why it is in place.

As a whole, the College and SU also put a great deal of effort into relevant messages to students about all aspects of acceptable behaviour and we consider this part of the education and, for want of a better phrase, ‘growing up’ process of university. Our historic roots as a pioneering College for women shows how deep our desire for equality, and respect goes and is I am certain still reflected in our ethos and thinking today.

I hope this answers some of your questions and reassures you that in no way do we condone the style of student events reported in this article. Please do let me know if you have any further questions.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Five

University of Sheffield:

I was in the article you spoke about and also was quotes in the guardian talking about the same issue so totally unrest and your sentiments.

Here at Sheffield I feel we do a lot to avoid this kind of branding at the students union and do report anything we feel is inappropriate in the locality to the city council.

Amy Masson

Women's Officer

University of Cumbria:

Thank you for your letter detailing your concerns around the activities held at universities during ‘welcome weeks’, which was passed to me by our enquiries service. I have shared it with our Students’ Union and our joint reply to the points you raise is as follows:

The University of Cumbria has always worked closely with its Students’ Union (SU) to promote a responsible approach to activities during freshers’ (welcome) week. As a university located across multiple sites within local communities, freshers’ activities tend be low key compared to those put on by SUs in universities in large cities. Obviously the social element of coming to university plays a significant part in the total experience that a student expects and alongside this, the University of Cumbria takes its responsibilities around student safety and behaviour very seriously. Each year, issues such as safe levels of drinking, health and personal safety are addressed through advice sessions and promotional literature; students are given practical sessions on personal safety and protection.

In addition, the nature of our course portfolio and the make-up of our student body possibly results in fewer issues than most universities would encounter. More than seventy per cent of our students are female and therefore the university and the Students’ Union are acutely aware of potential issues of equality.

The University of Cumbria Students’ Union general manager, Daryl Ormerod also adds: “We do not use, nor do we condone the use of event descriptors or activities such as those highlighted in the letter. Indeed we have actively campaigned against, and complained about, companies such as Carnage UK who do promote such unhealthy events and unscrupulous goings on. In fact Carnage UK are holding their ‘Pimps and Ho’s’ event in Lancaster in November, and we shall be distancing ourselves from that event, and raising objection to it with our partner venues, local council and the police.”

Should you have any further questions, we’d be happy to help so do please get back in touch.

Sheffield Hallam University:

Thank you for your email and the letter in which you raise some interesting concerns. The ‘pimps and hoes’ event you mention in the letter was organised by a commercial business called Carnage UK. Neither Sheffield Hallam University nor Hallam Union condoned this event and we actively sought to discourage our students from attending.

At the time, Helen Francis, Hallam Students’ Union president, made the following statement: "I am deeply concerned about the title and theme of the next Carnage [event] in Sheffield due to its connotations. I feel it is irresponsible to glamorise the sex industry and demean the complex circumstances of vulnerable women in society. Hallam Union does not condone commercially organised bar crawls due to their negative impact on student welfare. Students taking part in such events are routinely encouraged to drink to unsafe levels, having an adverse impact on their health, personal safety and the local community."

The University backed Helen’s comments and it was encouraging to see other members of the community and local MPs publicly express their disappointment about this particular event.

The University and the Union work hard to encourage students to act responsibly, and pass on useful information about health and safety issues to them when they enrol at Sheffield Hallam. However, we cannot be held responsible for the actions of individuals about the decisions they take, and can only advise them on the best ways to stay safe.

I hope this answers some of your questions, but if you have any others please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Swansea Metropolitan University:

I understand what you mean. We at Swansea Metropolitan Students’ Union don’t do any of those events asa we have policy for us not to do them. I agree with everything you have stated in your email.

...short and sweet.

It's nice that they agree, but I need a little more reassurance about what is being done to stamp out discrimination here.

Another spokesperson from Swansea Met replied:

You should find our events strictly adhere to our Union policies which include an ‘anti-raunch’ policy.

In addition, any events or venues we work with that chose to ignore this policy are subsequently not promoted to our students.

That's a bit better.

University of the West of England:

I can assure that UWE Students’ Union and UWE do not hold such events.

University of Winchester:

I would like to personally address your concerns. I am the elected student officer for Communications at Winchester Student Union and I can assure you that here at the Student Union, and the university, we do not tolerate sexism of any kind. I have personally read the article you are referring to as I am currently creating a feminist performance for my FYP. I can assure you that no such themes exist at our events, however I cannot speak for outside the university. The student union cannot control what goes on at other venues or clubs however we support our students as much as we can.

We are currently running a student welfare week called playmates week, which stands for Please Look After Your Mates. We are promoting all our student welfare services from dealing with mental health, eating disorders, crime, personal safety and sexual health. We do offer free condoms and had an event last night offering free chlamydia testing. We are not promoting promiscuity, just encouraging safe sex.

I have liaised with the student President Harry Stow and the general manager of the student union about your concerns.

We thank you for your email and find it really positive to see people being outspoken about these issues as they are very close to my heart and as a university with such a high percentage of women, I think it's extremely important to look out for each other.

I hope I have addressed your concerns and I am happy to discuss these issues, or any other concerns you have further.

University of York:

Thanks for getting in touch. I agree with you about the nature of events like 'Slag and Drag' (the event mentioned in the article that is linked to the University of York).

I personally find such events disrespectful and demeaning to women, and I have been working with our Women's Officer at the Students' Union to draft a response to the Independent article, outlining our issues with events like those mentioned. As the event is run through one of the University's colleges, we don't have a say on whether they can run it or not, but we are putting pressure on the college to reconsider events like this.

We truly believe at the Students' Union that events and University life should aim to be an inclusive and welcome environment for all, and so I am opposed to events like those you mentioned. We are also taking a stance against an upcoming event run by the company 'Carnage' which has a similar 'Pimps and Hoes' theme, which we find alienating, distasteful and demeaning.

Thank you again for getting in touch, and please do rest assured that we at the Students' Union are also deeply concerned about events that are disrespectful to any group.

University of Ulster:

Thanks for your letter. The University of Ulster Student's Union is working to proactively combat this sort of activity, for example we have recently been campaigning for the removal of a derogatory Facebook page on student life. We are committed to promoting an inclusive environment for our students and monitor all Student's Union events carefully.

Thanks for your email and letter and I hope you have received plenty of responses from other Universities/Students’ Unions.

Northumbria University:

At Northumbria Students’ Union we take issues like these very seriously and ensure that our students are provided with a quality entertainments package and not subjected to any sexual harassment, discrimination or mistreatment of any kind. Like you, we find this very worrying. I cannot comment on events that take place outside of the Students’ Union, for example in the town centre.

Additionally, we ensure that our activity package includes activities and opportunities of all types and are not solely arranged around drinking in order to be inclusive and a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds.

If you would like to view our Welcome Week activities you can do so here and I hope you feel that our activities reflect a welcoming culture.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Four

University of Manchester:

Three responses from different departments:

Thank you for your letter.

I can assure you that Manchester SU condones any sexist union events or activities and that we hold a very hard line on any instances of harassment on campus. We have a zero tolerance to harassment policy, and a safe space policy, ensuring we do not have any images that objectify women, in any way, in the union.

For more information on what I have been actively campaigning for and against, read my blog posts here.

I hope this puts your mind at ease in relation to Manchester SU.

* * *

Thank-you for your email. This is something we also feel very strongly about ourselves, and something we are in fact campaigning against from within.The problem we have is that we have absolutely no influence over Fresher’s Week as it is run/sold off by the Halls of Residence to external companies. The Students’ Union has been trying for some time to take control of Fresher’s Week, and therefore add some cultural value to it, eradicate the objectification of young girls and use the surplus to spend on student-led projects and campaigns.

Emphasis my own. I find it absolutely appalling that instead of being encouraged to study, students are coerced into behaving like the they're in an edition of Hollyoaks Later meets Ibiza Uncovered. This in turn causes grief to local residents. Sure, it's a boost to local economies but instead of spending money on books youngsters are spending money on vodka-redbulls. I sound really old and cranky now. I don't care.

I hope that answers your questions and paints us in a better light!

Yes indeedy!

* * *

I am concerned by some of the inaccuracies in your letter and, whilst there is no doubt the events you refer to do take place, they are organised entirely by external companies, promoters and nightclubs often ‘cashing in’ on the high number of students concentrated in UK towns and cities.

We have had issues in Manchester with some of these companies using social media to try to pass themselves of as ‘official events’ and we are very proactive in stopping this practice.

Indeed, at Manchester we felt so strongly about the negative connotations surrounding “Freshers’ Week” that we ditched the phrase completely a couple of years ago, in agreement with our Students’ Union – we now refer to it as ‘Welcome Week’ and you will never see the word ‘fresher’ in any of our official University publications.

Students are clearly free to attend any events they wish, both externally and internally, but there is no way this University would promote or encourage students to attend the events you refer to in your letter. We are rightly proud that our Students’ Union here in Manchester actively campaigns against such events, and the subsequent objectification of women.

I think he thought I was picking on him specifically...

By now I think the difference in responses is clear - ranging from a heartfelt "I'm glad you're doing this" (generally female) to a suspicious "why are you doing this" (generally male).

I'm not saying it isn't good to be suspicious and skeptical though. I was just popping up in inboxes across the land without really stating who I was or giving an agenda, after all. I think it's demonstrative of female trust and sisterliness and of male reasoning. It's sexist of me to say that but I'm going ahead and saying it anyway.

I like the idea of changing the phrase to 'Welcome Week'. It sounds, well, more welcoming.

Thanks for your kind response, the myth that Universities and SUs encourage these behaviours and attitudes is one we work very hard at Manchester to dispel.

I guess the main external culprits are promoters such as Carnage – they held an event in Liverpool last weekend and their Manchester version takes place at Deansgate Locks this weekend, and has already led to unsavoury headlines in the local press and will no doubt give more ammunition to ‘student-bashers’ in the city.

On the flip side, it is a difficult path to tread occasionally, as Universities are not ‘in loco parentis’, so students are free to attend any events or clubnights they choose, despite our best advice.

I wish you every success in your campaign, which you clearly feel passionate about, and hope you have some joy in redressing the balance.

University of Liverpool:

Thank you for your letter, as you pointed out, this issue is a very current theme within Universities and bars/clubs across the country.

I was just wondering if you were yourself a student, as we have had a very specific case in Liverpool last weekend. Our VP, Maggie Hayes also spoke with Rachael O’Byrne on Radio Merseyside last week regarding this issue and it is certainly something we are taking very seriously here at the Liverpool Guild of Students.

Inclusivity and providing a safe space for students are two crucial aspects of what we do, that is why we signed the open letter declaring ‘Carnage: Pimps and Hoes’ not welcome in Liverpool and are proud to have factored into our current building re-development an alcohol free social space, in which students who don’t want to drink can still attend society events, and be an active member of the student community.

We do not support the facilitation of the activities you have spoken about and our NUS backed, Zero Tolerance policy reflects our commitment to the rejection of sexual harassment, exploitation, and any capitalisation of societies degradation of women.

I look forward to hearing from you.

University of Kent:

Your email has been passed on to me as a Union representative. I just wanted to let you know I have received your email, but am currently out of the office and will endeavour to get a response to you by the end of the week.

You may in the meantime find interesting to read the blog which is currently linked in my signature which outlines the key messages I feel are important to get through to new students as opposed to anything else.

Liverpool Hope University:

I would like to thank you for sharing your concerns with me and I absolutely share them. I was personally disgusted and shocked to hear about the idea of "slut-dropping" and "slut-shaming". There has, I agree, been a worrying growth in Student Promotion nights and even in some Students' Unions of events that encourage women to present themselves as sexual objects (usually while men are asked to portray powerful, intelligent roles: "CEOs" or "Geeks" for example). The even more worrying issue is the patriarchal idea that the women should then be shamed or punished for portraying themselves as sexually available. This displays the deep rooted sexism which still exists in our society and it is something I personally condemn.

On behalf of Liverpool Hope Students' Union I can also say that we utterly condemn these sort of activities and should I hear of any such ideas being promoted to our members, you can be sure I will do everything in my power to stop it. We have a strong safe space policy (instituted by Cllr O'Byrne when she was President before me) which I work to uphold at all times. When I discovered our promotions company for welcome week were employing young women on our club nights to dress provocatively and have pictures with male students, I demanded they put an immediate stop to it. The objectification of women is totally unacceptable and has been shown to promote attitudes which enable those who sexually assault women. An NUS survey revealed that one in seven female students have experienced rape or sexual assault while at University - this is a hideous phenomenon we are always seeking to curtail.

Finally, on the matter of Carnage, we are totally against this event as a Union and especially the "Pimps and Hoes" night they ran this week. This, once again, promotes the objectification and subjugation of women on top of the dubious safety of Carnage itself. We were proud to stand alongside the Labour Women Councillors and Cllr O'Byrne to sign their letter of condemnation and we will continue to call on city authorities to ban this event in future.

I hope this short email gives you a fair summation of my beliefs and the Union's policy on these issues. If you would like further clarifications, or would like to ask me more questions, please feel free to do so.

Fuck you, Carnage.

University of Roehampton:

Thank you for your email, but we do not hold any Freshers Week events of this nature at Roehampton University.

But even your name is an anagram of 'Hoe Tramp On!' Clearly a patriarchal agenda. Bah.

Robert Gordon University:

Thank you for your e-mail and bringing this article to my attention. I found your letter very thought provoking. While I’m not aware of such activities taking place at RGU I do think your letter is a timely reminder that we are not always fully aware of everything that takes place in the name of Freshers’ Week.

I’ll forward your letter to our Dean of Students and Student President to ensure they have seen it. It can be very easy with annual events to undertake them as usual without considering their appropriateness. It sometimes takes an intervention, such as your letter, to take a step back and take a fresh look.

It may be that my colleagues are well on top of this but it doesn’t do any harm to bring it to their attention. No doubt they will be reviewing this year’s event in the near future and it would be the appropriate time to raise this issue for discussion.

Another one of those replies that makes it all worthwhile. Thank you RGU.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Three

University of Hull:

Thank you for your email.

I am making enquiries as to the nature of the Welcome Week events that were organised by the Hull University Union and hopefully we will be able to supply you with a response in due course.

Can I just enquire as to what capacity you are writing in? For example, are you a current or former student of the University of Hull, a current or former student at a different university or are you enquiring from a press perspective. If so, for whom do you write and what is your deadline?

This will help us tailor our response accordingly.

I was running out of patience with these replies by this point. And patience is not something I possess in abundance at the best of times. It shouldn't matter who I am, a University should be able to describe what procedures they have in place for aiming to lower sexual harassment claims regardless.

Sent my usual polite reply anyway.

Cardiff University:

This email came titled, 'You Didn't Read Up On Us, Did You?

Hello! I'm Sam Hickman the currents women's officer and Head of the Cardiff women's Association.

Cardiff union and the university has both a zero tolerance to sexual harassment of any kind and we have an incredibly competent team of officers which would never allow anything like 'pop your cherry' to every be printed in any student media...

Therefore, We are pretty incredible when it comes to gender equality... we're not yet there.. but we're working damn hard to get it! :D

Also, this week alone we've been quoted in both the huffington post and the independent news paper... We're doing stuff already!

Join us on facebook, twitter or campusgroups for more info !

Thanks

Sam Hickman

Hello Sam!

You obviously didn't read the STANDARD email I sent along with my STANDARD letter, did you?

Dear Sir/Madam,

Please find attached a standard letter I am emailing to Universities and Student Union representatives. My sincere apologies if you feel the nature of Freshers' Week events described therein do not apply to student events arranged at _________.

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards

Also, if you'd done an equal amount of research into me as you'd expected I'd done into you, you'd discover I don't have a Facebook account!

Ok, I'll drop the snarkiness now and award a thumbs up to Cardiff.

Heriot-Watt University:

I'm really glad you're sending out this letter, and even though there have been no events similar to this at Heriot-Watt, it's really encouraging to see someone taking a stand against such disgusting misogynistic behaviour.

I'm the Women's Officer for the Union here at Heriot-Watt, and I'd appreciate it if you could keep me up to date on what's happening, and with any ways I can help you with this.

This really warmed the cockles of my Frustrated Feminist heart and gave me incentive to carry on.

University of East London:

Thanks for your letter. Can I ask are you a student at the University of East London, or perhaps a student elsewhere? As a students union concerned with students rights and welfare, naturally we share the same concerns as you when it comes to unhealthy event publicity and events which are not sensitive to the needs of our diverse body of students. We do organise social events on campus during Freshers Week, but the advertisement for our Students Union entertainments and events are nothing like those you describe. As a charity we are in champions of students’ welfare, and I’m sure that such insensitive event publicity makes us even more angry than it makes you.

Unfortunately, most ‘university’ events of this nature are not usually in any way affiliated either to universities or students unions. Clubnight promoters tend to brand their parties as ‘university freshers party’ and similar because they know they can get a big attendance that way. Naturally, students unions and universities tend to shun this sort of publicity and refuse to cooperate with these promoters (we don’t allow them space on our campuses to promote unofficial Freshers events, for example). However, because there’s a lot of money in club promoting around universities, these companies and promoters are sometimes ruthless and will always find a way to get the word out to students and also to make it seem like their event is an official one. They have more staff time dedicated to advertising than we do.

Thankfully, the University of East London experienced much less unlicensed event promotion than usual this year, possibly thanks to our own (safe, and sensitive) events programme. We have received positive feedback about our Freshers Week this year from UEL students from a wide range of different ages, ethnic origins, nationalities, genders, and backgrounds.

This was the first reply I received that truly opened my eyes to the influence of external companies cashing in on Fresher money, willingness to partaaay, and naievty.

Imperial College London:

Thank you for your email –

The email referenced in the Independent article was sent by two (female) students on behalf of a constituent part of the Union (the Physics society). For that, the two students have been disciplined, have been made to apologise, and are attending a session to be run by the Union on what we deem ‘appropriate communication’.

The events listed in the rest of the article do not occur at Imperial College Union: we do not run themed events of this nature: all of our events are publically viewable on the Union’s calendar, http://www.imperialcollegeunion.org/whats-on . Our themes are ‘rubiks cube’, ‘uv rave’, and ‘90s’ to name a few.

Again, I apologise for any offence caused by the email, but rest assured this is not standard practice at Imperial College Union.

The by-product of frazzling my brain sending out so many emails is forgetting which establishments were mentioned in Laura Bates' article that I referenced at the beginning of my standard letter. Nevertheless, I probably wouldn't've made any changes in my letter sent out to Imperial College London. It's all about equal treatment, after all.

Verrry interesting to hear of the spin put on the article though, the implication being that it was horny males sending out the email to Physics students that caused all the hoohah. Very interesting indeed. More on that later.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Universities Respond: Part Two

University of Bristol:

I am afraid I am not allowed to open attachments from unknown sources – can you please copy and paste this onto an e-mail?

Bristol is ranked 11th in the 2013 University League Table, yet does not have sufficient anti-virus software in place to open a Word Doc?

Canterbury Christ Church University:

Many thanks for your email and your concerns, we have been following the articles recently published also. We feel that, as a Union with a wide range of student demographics, we try to arrange an entertainments program aimed at all and do not usually host many themed events, our themes if and when we do these are tame, some do encourage dressing up but not in a way which would put our students at risk, or put one gender ‘above’ another, we aim for equality in themes and students can dress up if they want or not and dress how ever they feel.

We will continue to host a wide variety of events for students and would certainly not be hosting derogatory themed events.

Edinburgh Napier University:

In your letter you do not mention who the comments are for? Is it for yourself or a newspaper or?

Thanks

In my letter I refer to my former student days. A lot of respondees seemed fearful I was an angry former student of their University, or a hack. I purposefully kept my intentions for what I was going to do with the replies vague, because I wasn't quite sure at the time myself, plus I hoped to obtain a similar reply that they would write to an editor of a national newspaper. I can understand the need to tailor replies according to the occupation and intentions of the correspondent, but it still doesn't sit comfortably with me that they would say one thing to the newspapers and send a dismissive knock off reply to Concerned from Brighton.

I eventually produced what would become a standard reply to this sort of enquiry; that I was merely inquisitive, and hoped to possibly publish the replies on my personal blog for anyone of a similarly inquisitive nature to judge.

Heriot-Watt University:

Would it be ok to ask in what capacity you are writing the letter in and what action you’re looking at coming out of it?

Glynd┼Ár University:

That’s fine as far as im aware nothing like this goes on in Glyndwr, thank god. I know a lot of students had never heard about it until the article was published. Your laura lawson

Well, if nothing else comes of this, at least I've gained a Laura Lawson.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Universities Respond: Part One

Aberdeen University:

Thank you for your letter, which raises fundamental issues. Please rest assured that we take our Equal Opportunity policies very seriously and we are keen to tackle issues that may arise in regards Freshers' week.

Although I think our Freshers' week this year did not go to the extremes which the article describes, we can always do more work to promote gender equality and prevent the objectification of women, both within our own events and those of our partners. This is why our President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, Gordon Maloney, is leading a Zero Tolerance campaign through which he is working with the pubs and clubs of Aberdeen to make sure that they take a very strict approach to sexual harassment.

He is also working with our liberation officers to make sure that not only the Students' Association, but also all our partners, societies and clubs, are aware of the issues surrounding equal opportunities.

This is work in progress, but I am hopeful that at least, we are going in the right direction. I realise that this is not perfect, but I hope it answers some of the concerns you have raised.

Thank you for your concern.

One of my first replies and a very encouraging one at that. Props to the 'deen.

Bangor University:

Thank you for your letter outlining your concerns surrounding our Welcome Week activities. The copy that you sent to the Students’ Union was passed on to me as Vice President Education & Welfare. In this role, I am responsible for all of the activity relating to all students welfare.

I also read that article that you mention, and I am aware that it has been discussed at length by both members of staff at the University and students and staff in the Students’ Union.

Firstly, allow me to clarify one point – the Students’ Union is separate to the University, therefore any comments that I make refer only to the Students’ Union (and not the University).

As a Union, we give tremendous consideration to the possible consequences of our actions and initiatives on our students. We are, however, somewhat hampered in regulating Welcome Week activities through a number of reasons.

i. The Students’ Union does not have a nightclub of its own.

a. The Academi nightclub on Deiniol Road is operated by Undeb Trading Cyf., a subsidiary company of Bangor University

ii. Embassy and Peep (formerly known as the Octagon) are beyond any control of the Students’ Union and the University

iii. Recent history has shown a number of external companies (located outside of Bangor) have attempted to arrange “pub crawls” around Bangor, selling t-shirts or cards to students in order to participate.

Two of the five Sabbatical Officers (who are the elected officials that run the Students’ Union) sit of the Board of Directors of Undeb Trading Cyf. and all events put on in Academi are scrutinised thoroughly. All events that are run by the Students’ Union or the University must adhere to a strict “Zero Tolerance Against Harassment & Discrimination” policy, and all staff involved receive training on this policy and how to handle situations. Our events this year were all targeted towards students meeting and socialising, rather than any that have a more "sexual" theme. Unfortunately, not all of the nightclubs in Bangor adhere to such a strict code of conduct, however, as I have mentioned, they are beyond our control. What we have stated is that, in line with our policy, no events arranged by the Students’ Union or Bangor University will have themes similar to the "pimps and hoes" example you refer to. In addition, in the past, Bangor Students’ Union has worked with the North Wales Police Authority and Gwynedd Council to prevent the external company known as "Carnage" from hosting a "Dirty Porn Star" themed event in Bangor. Another point that you raise in your letter is about free condoms and “implied support from Students’ Unions”. This year I took the decision (as several of my predecessors have done before me) to purchase large numbers of condoms from the NHS to be distributed to students. I do not feel that this implies that the Union supports promiscuity. This formed part of a campaign spearheaded by one of our student led societies called "I Take One Everywhere", with the idea that students should take a condom "everywhere they take their genitalia". It would be foolish of me to deny that Welcome Week has a reputation for being a period of heavy drinking within the student population, and that whilst intoxicated, students will have reduced inhibitions, which may result in an increased likelihood of a sexual encounter. We therefore took the view that whilst some students will inevitably sleep together, it would be more beneficial for us to promote the virtues of "safe sex". The use of kitemarked condoms purchased from the NHS gives us, and our students, the peace of mind that should they use a condom that was distributed as part of this campaign, they were using a product of high quality that emphasised the "safe sex" ethos.

I can assure you that we do indeed want to see a reduction in the number of sexual harassment cases, not only in future workplaces, but in Bangor as a community. To this end, we also arranged a free minibus service and walking buses from Academi to the various Halls of Residence and around Bangor for Welcome Week. This scheme was done in conjunction with the University’s Peer Guide initiative (where all new students are allocated a 2nd or 3rd Year mentor) and with the support of the local police. This scheme was highly successful and was used extensively by both new and returning students. The minibuses and walking buses were staffed by trained Union volunteers, and has attracted messages of thanks and congratulations from students, parents, local authorities and local residents.

I hope you’ll agree from this letter that we as a Students’ Union regard our responsibilities relating to the welfare of our students with utmost importance, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for showing such a level of concern for the students of Bangor University.

Another top notch response. Which compensated in part for the amount of Out-of-Office replies I'd been receiving, the 'we'll forward this on to someone else' replies, and the MAILER DAEMON undeliverable notifications. Here's the thing folks, if you're going to put your email address on your website, make sure it's working yeah?

That reminds me of another issue. The amount of links and navigating I had to do to find the contact details for some of these Women's Officers and Union Presidents and the like. It's almost as if, in some cases, they'd prefer not to be contacted. Fancy that!

Note to self: reconfigure mobile to mirror this strategy for when I'm tempted to drunk-text an ex.

University of Glasgow:

I read your letter this afternoon - and indeed the related newspaper article last week - and I do agree that these examples and patterns are concerning - particularly as some happened very nearby in commercial premises in the West End.

As a member of the Freshers' Week Committee at the QMU, I can honestly say that - right from the start of the Freshers' Week process - we made as sure as possible that nobody would feel pressured or demeaned as a result of any of the activities that we ran in Freshers' Week. None of our events were themed along the sexualised lines as, for example, the 'pimps and hoes' example from the article, or 'traffic light parties' seen elsewhere. I am confident that they never will be.

As a member of the Executive, I made sure that - throughout the week - all of our 110 volunteer helpers conformed to strict guidelines and protocol on how to interact with, welcome and socialise with new students. The QM has an incredibly strong heritage rooted in equality and social justice movements, and this will not be diluted or changed any time soon.

The QMU is proud to be the biggest non-NHS distributor of free contraception in Greater Glasgow, but at all points promote this in a non-pressuring fashion, and as overseen by our Campaigns and Charities committee. I can promise that this service was never pushed in conjunction with any event or offer in our Freshers' Week. None of our advertising copy or materials even alluded to the 'pop ya cherry' example cited in your letter.

If you have any specific concerns regarding our Freshers' Week, I'd be very prepared to answer any questions, and act on any issues specifically. Our Campaigns & Charities Committee is open to any member of the Union, and meets every Monday at 5pm. You would be more than welcome to come along and see what we do regarding our Free Condoms service, and how we do it.

From Brighton that'd be a bit of a trek but I appreciate the offer nonetheless! And indeed the rest of the letter.

3 excellent replies so far. But you can see now why I had to add:

"...With implied support from Student Unions free condoms, flyers about chlamydia alongside flyers enticing students to themed fancy dress nights at clubs inviting you to ‘Pop ya cherry!’ rain down like laminated confetti. (I appreciate the promotion of safe sex; I am merely underlining the dichotomy)".

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Sexism in Freshers' Weeks

I have been busying myself with a little project recently, namely sending the following text out as a standard letter to all of the Universities on this list.

Dear Sir/Madam,

Following an article by Laura Bates published on www.independent.co.uk on 9th October 2012 I feel moved to write to ___________. This article was called 'Slut dropping' and 'Pimps and Hoes' - the sexual politics of freshers' week. It described appalling treatment of female students (often exceptionally vulnerable as they are experiencing their first time away from home) and ‘horrific normalisation of sexist attitudes’.

Most College and University prospectuses seem to follow the same standard format when it comes to representing student life: highlighting the cultural opportunities available and depicting students of all ages, genders and racial backgrounds lolling about on grassy slopes happily discussing books and articles. The reality for me and many of my peers is altogether different, especially during Freshers’ Week. With implied support from Student Unions free condoms, flyers about chlamydia alongside flyers enticing students to themed fancy dress nights at clubs inviting you to ‘Pop ya cherry!’ rain down like laminated confetti. (I appreciate the promotion of safe sex; I am merely underlining the dichotomy).

While mature minds may have the ability to take this in their stride and treat it as the crass consumerism and exploitation it is, I believe this can only have a detrimental impact on the youthful personalities of first year students which are, of course, still in development. The response Laura Bates received after the article’s publication indicated female students feel coerced to participate in demeaning, sexualising activities in an attempt to ‘fit in’. When invited to comment on a ‘pimps and hoes’ fancy dress theme for students in Liverpool, councillor for Allerton and Hunts Cross Rachael O’Byrne said the theme “perpetuates the objectification and exploitation of women”. The purpose of Universities is to educate against, not condone this type of behaviour and gender-stereotyping.

I’m not saying that students shouldn’t have fun. I’m not saying males and females shouldn’t be allowed to be promiscuous at University if that’s what they want to do. I am kindly imploring you to reconsider the lasting consequences of these Freshers’ Week themes and how they may set an example of what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the future working and social lives of the students. We want to reduce the amount of sexual harassment cases in future workplaces. We want women to be valued for their minds. We want respect and equality for both sexes. I say ‘we’ because, I’m sure, as an esteemed establishment you share these values and will hopefully make appropriate adjustments to the social programmes available to your students. I am looking forward to receiving your thoughts on this matter.

Yours faithfully,

KM

I had to add the qualifying aside "(I appreciate the promotion of safe sex; I am merely underlining the dichotomy)" as I received a few replies from Universities emphatically justifying their proud stance on sexual health. They probably assumed I was a bewildered septuagenarian aghast at today's young ladies baring their ankles and shoulders.

Thanks to Naomi Gilmore for her proof-reading of the letter and very helpful editing.

So why did I decide to do this? I've been thinking about feminism a lot lately and discussing the concept and definition with friends. I've explained that I can't abide the sort of feminist that does little but complain. I thought I would try a pro-active approach, y'know, actual try to make a difference, instead of indulging in my day-to-day moans that some guy in a white van honked me.

The replies range from the suspicious and condescending to the utterly inspiring and heartwarming, and I intend to post most of them on this blog. Then hopefully any young student-to-be researching which University she would like to attend might stumble across them and can be better-informed regarding the nature of the atmosphere they can expect upon arrival - and indeed throughout the duration of their studies.