Fight sexism in our student unions!

We’ve all probably experienced sexism in our unions – whether it’s sexist club nights; the fact that women students are under-represented as sabbaticals; or a lack of support services for women students. Have you had enough? Jennifer Krase (NUS Women’s Committee and Bangor University student activist) certainly has!

Below is an open letter Jennifer wrote following an incident at Aberystwyth University. We’ll post updates on this incident as they come.

Open letters can be a great way to make your voice heard and let people know about issues – what other ways are people fighting sexism in their unions?

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Open Letter to NUS Wales Women’s Officer and Aberystwyth Guild of Students

I am a member of NUS UK Women’s committee, a dedicated student activist and feminist and a member of my students’ union.

Reports have circulated depicting Ben Meakin, President (who is planning to re-stand) of Aber Guild at Superteams, holding a pint and having fake fellatio performed by a female student while standing on a staircase in front of a room of people.

To my knowledge Aber have a Zero Tolerance policy. They’ve also recently passed, to much celebration, a new policy giving their students part-time liberation officers. This behaviour from a sabbatical officer and a member of the WNEC in the context of these policies, combined with the attitude of the Guild’s elections committee, leads me to believe that the Guild is doing and excellent job of paying lip service to liberation and not much at all to protect women students.

I am also concerned that there has been no comment as yet from the NUS Wales Women’s officer Stephanie Lloyd, who in her bid to become NUS Wales President, has been supported by Ben Meakin. Considering that the NUS Wales Women’s Campaign has a responsibility to women students in Wales to directly oppose this kind of behaviour from students and officers, the fact that it’s making the rounds so quickly and has yet to receive comment from the foremost student feminist in Wales is appalling.

The right of students to run in sabbatical elections does not trump the rights of women students to be treated like human beings, and not sexual objects. The right of students to know exactly what kind of person they are electing- including people who behave unprofessionally and as misogynists while President of their Guild- absolutely trumps any notions of upholding a semblance of electoral neutrality. There has been no apology, no disciplinary action, and no comment on the political and social ramifications for the status of women in Aber Guild that will result from the Guild President freely acting out his opinions on women in society.

This is not an issue on which NUS Wales or Aber Guild have any right to be neutral or passive. They must stand up against this kind of behaviour and set the example and the standard for rooting it out when and where it happens. Quite frankly as a woman student and as an activist who has spent countless hours through my degree working on the Women’s Campaign to see this pass by under the guise of “elections fairness” tells me that NUS Wales and Aber Guild both prioritise elections over women’s basic right to be treated as human.

I expect the Women’s Officer to reject Ben Meakin’s support publicly, to make a statement on the behaviour depicted in the photograph that is circulating, and Aber Guild to do its duty to its women students and disqualify Ben Meakin from re-standing for Guild President. I also expect him to publicly apologise for his role in the situation depicted in those pictures.

Students from Aber wishing to discuss this matter and oppose this behaviour as a matter of political principal should not be threatened with being banned from student elections. It is obvious who has the interests of women students in Aber at heart; clearly not the President, the elections committee, or NUS Wales Women’s Officer. This situation absolutely cannot continue. I will not stand for it and neither will women students in Wales.

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4 thoughts on “Fight sexism in our student unions!

  1. Response of the SU President Ben Meakin:

    I sincerely regret my participation in the social event held outside the Guild after our Superteams day.

    I compromised my role as Guild president. This morning, I resigned as a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee (WNEC). My actions go against the fantastic work of the women’s liberation movement, which I fully support.

    Personally, I am a strong advocate for the women’s movement. This is clear through my work banning the event Carnage coming to the Guild this year. I have learned from this experience and plan to carry on my work here at Aberystwyth University.

  2. Jennifer posts an update to her open letter:

    Have spoken to Stephanie Lloyd (NUS Wales Women’s Officer) on the phone this morning. A joint statement from the NUS Wales officers will be coming out today regarding the incident at Aber Guild.

    I’m glad that a statement will be issued, even though I would still have liked to see a more immediate (and probably harsher) reaction especially out of the Women’s Campaign.

    However I also recognise that the officers will have a lot of background work to do with the Guild to ensure that best practice is adhered to in addressing the horrendous bullying that has resulted from students doing the right thing and speaking out. Regardless, I am relieved that people are broadly showing a public united in response to this disgusting act of misogyny.

    I would also like to wish the students who complained the best of luck and offer any support that I can give as well, of course, as my solidarity with their actions. It takes a lot of courage to act, whether you are an officer or not, when you know you will face a big backlash.

    I will be writing to Aber Guild myself and to Aberystwyth University’s Registrar to express my utmost concern that this situation go through the appropriate disciplinary process and that the Guild and University take an overt stance against this type of behaviour regardless of the disciplinary outcome. I will also strongly encourage them to support the students facing harassment as a result of complaining.

  3. Hi friends! Great to see this posted 🙂

    Just to clarify- I am an activist at Bangor University, which is to the north of Aber. But I am in contact with activists across Wales (as any good activist should be…) and involved in NUS and NUS Wales as a delegate for my own SU. The situation was brought to my attention by an Aber student and I felt a signal boost was needed to ensure proper action was taken.

    Several of us at Bangor have demonstrated our disgust at the situation and the subsequent bullying behaviours faced by some of the students who have openly complained.

    Really appreciate your support in highlighting this issue- it’s a major problem and I am hoping to hear about positive action coming out of it to stop it happening ever again, at Aber or elsewhere in Welsh Unions.

    I’ll keep you up to date!

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