Yes that’s right, abolish the Women’s and BME Officers, so sit back and sharpen your knives while I explain.
YUSU officer positions are complex and overlapping. For example the Black & Minority Ethnic is a position which is supposed to ‘Represent black and minority ethnic students’. Taking the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of ethnic minorities, ‘A group within a community which has different national or cultural traditions from the main population’, suggests that any person who is born outside the UK, as well as some of those born in it, will be covered by this office. The position can be taken by anybody who does not define as White British.
Does this mean a Scottish Nationalist could take the position? In all seriousness of course it doesn’t but it does show that the position could be filled by a white person of any nationality other than British, an international student in other words. We already have an International Officer so it seems as though we are simply creating more division and categories. I recognise that there are racial minorities that are not international students but in this case they are British and therefore have experienced living as a minority and unless they have been part of a very reclusive community, have also experienced British culture so come on an equal footing as any other British student. In other words the position does not really serve a purpose. Perhaps the problem is one of terminology but in this case at the very least the position needs a name change and clarification that they are focusing on racial issues, not ethnic issues.
Now to the Women’s Officer position. YUSU defines the position’s responsibilities as ‘Representing women and promoting women’s liberation across campus’. This perhaps suggests that women are somewhat oppressed on campus. One of the Women’s Officer candidates suggested that women are ‘talked over in seminars’ and this is probably the case but in a heated seminar were multiple people are striving to get their point across I do not believe this is a mutually exclusive problem to one gender. It can even be questioned how well a woman officer serves the female population of the university as candidates generally have the same policies of increasing protection. By constantly preaching how much protection women need, we are reinforcing the message that women are weak and this is a genuine complaint of some women at the university.
When looking at what Women’s Officer actually does, the position takes on a more political guise. A quick look on the Facebook page of the YUSU Women’s Officer (lazy journalism on my part) shows articles focused on international issues and posts about the cancellation of International Men’s Day. The Women’s Officer position seems to draw controversy and create division even if the officers themselves are not at fault but this has been exacerbated by officers involving themselves in these controversial campus events and commenting on complex world issues instead of focusing on women’s welfare on campus. Political problems such as campaigning against tax on tampons and the gender pay gap are best left to the University’s thriving Feminist society. Furthermore raising awareness about sexual assault is clearly a wellbeing issue and as with racism, can be dealt with by the police, the YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer, and staff.
So what is the way forward? My proposal is to have two welfare officers, one male and one female because there are obviously times when women with welfare issues would like to talk to a women. This position would concentrate on the welfare of women and hopefully shed the negative connotation that the current women's officer position suffers from while encouraging a greater variety of candidates. The BME officer and International officer position should be merged as they are currently serving the same people. This reduces labels and division and may just promote increased inclusion.