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.