Survey finds over half of Lancaster students disagree with new Liberation Officer positions

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Over half of students at Lancaster University who participated in our poll disagree with LUSU’s decision to introduce three new Liberation Cross Campus Officers (CCOs). In a poll on the SCAN website of 183 students – though admittedly a small sample – 56% of respondents said that they disagreed with the introduction of a Women’s Officer, Black Officer and Disabled Officer, with only 28% of respondents agreeing with the decision and 16% voting that they agreed with the position “to an extent”.

Union Council passed the byelaw changes during the Week 7 session of Council, and has since received criticism from both within and outside of the Council. Particular criticism has been levelled at the use of the term “Black” in the name of one of the three new positions, as well as the lack of consultation which took place before Union Council voted on the motion. Some students have also questioned the extent to which the positions are necessary.

One critic of the byelaw is Dimeji Ademiju, Vice President: Welfare for Fylde. Speaking to SCAN, Ademiju voiced concerns over Liberation CCO positions and the manner in which the roles were formed. Ademiju raised three main issues of concern regarding the positions: firstly, that the necessary consultation between LUSU and the relevant societies did not take place, secondly that the proposed title of Black Student Officer was inappropriate and lastly raising the issue of who will be able to run and vote for the position.

Ademiju stated that he was frustrated that “there was no consultation with the relevant societies about these new roles and whether it was needed or necessary.” He further stated that the consultation process should have been able to gauge a response from groups who would be represented by the role. “LUSU consulted 12 individuals; the Afro-Caribbean Society, Indian Society, Arab Society, Chinese Society and many others knew nothing of these new positions. LUSU said they attempted to contact the societies, but an attempt is not sufficient. Even if it meant waiting LUSU should have waited for a response.”

Ademiju told SCAN that any personal problems with formation of the role would be irrelevant were the consultation process able to prove that the role was wanted by the necessary groups. “If LUSU had initially consulted with the societies and they decided together that they wanted a position exclusively for ‘Black students’ or ‘Women’ I cannot argue against the motion being passed, even if I’m against it. The societies have spoken and the needs of the students must be met.”

SCAN spoke to Union Council Chair Damon Fairley in order to determine how much consultation had taken place. Fairley pointed out that the consultation process had begun last term, with VP (Union Development) Laurence Pullan bringing a discussion item to the Week 7 session of Union Council, “to gauge the Council’s general sentiments around the introduction of liberation officers.” Fairley said that he believed the Council’s reception to such a proposal were largely positive. “Although there was opposition from some members of Council, the majority of the room voted in favour of introducing liberation Officers in an indicative vote requested by the VP (Union Development)” Fairley told SCAN.

Following this indicative vote at Union Council, it is believed Pullan asked interested officers to attend a liberation sub-group, where the introduction of Liberation Officers would be discussed in more detail and a byelaw would be drafted. Pullan then typed up the byelaw with supporting evidence to submit to Council. It is unclear whether any consultation outside of this sub-group was taken during this period.

In response to the criticism of the consultation process, President Joel Pullan said that “I think there is demand for [these positions]: we’ve had a liberation sub-group who have said that there is demand for this, and liberation groups on campus, who have come to us and said ‘we need this’… We’ve taken direct student feedback on it; we haven’t just gone and done it ourselves.”

The initial title of the position Black Student Officer was another area which caused controversy among the student body. Several of the students SCAN spoke to believed that it did not fully represent ethnic minorities on campus. One student said “I thought the intentions were good, but perhaps the Black Officer could be renamed, because there are other ethnic minorities on campus. Asians, for example, don’t seem to have their own Officer.”

“The name of the Officer roles; terming a position – that covers Arabs, Chinese, African and Indians – as ‘Black student Officer’ is inappropriate and narrow.” Ademiju said regarding the name of the Officer. “LUSU adopted this name because NUS adopted it; it’s like a game of NUS says. The NUS term is inappropriate and offensive and needs to be reassessed.”

Pressure from the student body has forced LUSU to make several changes to the names of the officers in the beylaw, which will be voted on during the Thursday Week 9 session of Union Council. The primary change will be that the name Black Officer will be changed to Racial Equality Officer. The Disabled Students’ Officer will now be called the Disabled Student’s Campaigns Officer, and Women’s Officer will now be named the Women’s Campaigns Officer. The roles themselves, however, are largely unchanged.

Who would and who would not be able to run for the role was a further contentious issue. Ademiju told SCAN, “The elections initially were to be closed, so only those who self-define as Black could run for the position. This just leaves the election open to trolling from people as protest. How is LUSU going to police this? Are they going to send voter codes out to everyone and only those who think they’re black can vote? How do you define black? Can a person whose great-grandparents were mixed race vote? It is simply asking for trouble.” He went on to state that this concern has been answered through the change in name – “the position will be open and the title doesn’t exclude certain groups from running because you don’t have to self-define as black.”

Other criticisms of the role were much wider than Ademiju’s grievances, however, with some students questioning whether the roles are necessary at all. On the topic of a Women’s Officer, one student said: “I can understand why they’ve been introduced in line with the NUS targeted liberation groups. However, on a personal level I have problems with the Women’s Officer, just because I find it a bit offensive that one woman is meant to represent every other woman.

“Also I understand that women are identified as a liberation group but I feel quite confident and independent and I don’t feel like I need someone to lead me. On a personal level I’m not a fan of it but I do understand why [it has been introduced].”

Pullan, however, was adamant that the roles are necessary. “Disabled students leave university 20% less satisfied than able-bodied students,” Pullan said. “Black or ethnic minority students are severely disadvantaged, not just at university but in society: they get on average 50p less an hour wages; 10% of mental health cases at universities are with Black students, despite only making up 3% of the population.”

“So, it is clear that there is something wrong there and we need students from these liberation groups to get engaged and tell us what these issues really are because, to be honest, we don’t really know.”

Union Council will vote on the amendments to the byelaw changes during the Week 9 session, which takes place at 6pm on Thursday.

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