Reflections on a brutal end to a turbulent career

speaks to Grace Fletcher-Hackwood on the eve of her departure from the University of York

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood

Heidi Blake speaks to Grace Fletcher-Hackwood on the eve of her departure from the University of York.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood is never out of place at the centre of a political storm. In her four years at YUSU, she has gained a reputation as a militant feminist and a left-wing firebrand.

She was first threatened with a vote of no confidence when, as Women’s Officer in 2006, she protested angrily against proposals to remove equality officers from Executive Committee. She promptly resigned, freeing herself to spearhead the prominent “Vote No” campaign which ultimately derailed the proposals, and was gloriously reinstated weeks later, having shored up the position of liberation officers in the Union.

Sadly, the circumstances of Grace’s resignation from the position of Academic and Welfare Officer this February were very different. She was forced to go by a vote of no confidence of unprecedented scale, which she lost by eight votes. She relinquished her office not in willing service of a noble cause but because, during a drunken row over ethical merchandise, she had assaulted second-year student Dan Taylor.

Grace now plans to leave York for good after five years, and has agreed to give one last interview to Nouse before she goes. Looking tired and drawn, she speaks wearily of the events of the past few weeks. “As soon as we realised a vote of no confidence was on the cards Jolene, the Union Manager, said ‘Okay Grace, this is going to be the worst couple of weeks of your life’. And it has been. I’m just glad it’s over.”

Grace has decided that to appeal against the vote would be “too messy”. She plans to move as soon as she can find a flat in Manchester. “Of course I’m really, really sad. I regret what I did, and I regret what it led to. But there’s nothing I can do about it now, so I’m moving on and it’s quite exciting. I don’t want to be one of the former sabbs who hangs around,” she says, with a wry smile.

In her capacity as Academic and Welfare Officer, Grace was responsible for the advocacy and protection of students. So how did she come to hit Dan Taylor? “Nothing personal, obviously”, she says. “We’ve just known and loathed each other for about 18 months.” Grace continues, apparently unaware of the incongruity in what she says. “It’s a horrible irony on my entire time here that we were arguing about whether the Union should use ethical merchandise.”

Taylor, who tabled the vote of no confidence against Grace and led the campaign for her removal, has argued that her assault was entirely unprovoked. Is this true? Grace looks pensive. “I don’t want to make it sound like I sought him out to hurt him because he’s always irritated me, but we’ve disagreed for a long time because he’s a very right wing Conservative and I’m a left wing member of the Labour party. Of course, just because Dan is not a very nice person doesn’t mean it’s okay for people to hit him. But I was very frustrated by his total lack of concern about ethical merchandise.”

Grace says she realised the seriousness of what she had done immediately, and sent Taylor a message of apology the following morning. By his own admission, Taylor replied telling Grace she was ‘forgiven’, but days later, he went to the campus media with the story. Grace says she was baffled by his change of heart. “I thought for a while that he considered my abject apology a victory in itself, but the next I heard about it was when Nouse found out, and then he proposed the vote against me days later.”

Grace believes that Taylor’s decision to pursue a vote of no confidence was motivated by personal and political malice. “I don’t think anybody’s fooled for a second into thinking that Dan believed I couldn’t do my job. He doesn’t care, because he doesn’t think YUSU should exist. But the things I’ve done during my time here – my feminism, and standing as a Labour councillor – have made me a bit of a personal hate figure not just for him, but for a lot of the right wing on campus. Obviously, a lot of people voted because they genuinely thought that someone who hit a student isn’t a suitable welfare officer, and I can’t blame them. But I think a lot of that was due to manipulation by Dan.”
During the campaign against her, both Dan Taylor and former Vice-President of the York Tories Thomas Crockitt posted allegations on Facebook that Grace had taken two years out of university due to a nervous breakdown.

Grace responds to these accusations with obvious indignation. “The thing which amazes me about what Dan Taylor did was not the fact that he lied, but the fact that he thought that would be an insult. I took a leave of absence for two terms because I had absolutely no money, so I was trying to do a 25-hour working week, and my degree, and YUSU. But does he really think that, if I did have a nervous breakdown, that would make me a terrible person?”

Despite Grace’s claims of a right-wing vendetta against her, some of her opponents came from other quarters. Joey Ellis, YUSU Student Development and Charities Officer, called for her colleague’s resignation at the Union General Meeting, on the basis that “violence of any kind is unacceptable”. Grace is clearly hurt by Ellis’s decision to lend weight to the campaign against her. “I don’t understand why she feels so strongly about this, although obviously I entirely respect her opinion”, she says. “Her speech was very unexpected. It’s sad, because when we were all sabbs we were really good friends and now, fairly obviously, we’re not. I never imagined this might happen.”
Though she feels hurt, Grace is determined to remain positive in the face of adversity and maintains her loyalty to the Union. “The value of YUSU is immeasurable”, she says and it is her achievements as a sabbatical officer of which Grace feels most proud.

“Doing the extra bit for students…Those things make a difference.” Grace’s smile is suddenly overcast. “I feel really bad now”, she says. “I was going to say the main thing is just being there for students. But I’m not there anymore, and that feels really sad.”

“You feel like you’re making a difference every day. I’ve been a YUSU officer longer than I’ve been anything else, and everyone knows how much student welfare means to me.”

She considers her role in derailing the anti-equality proposals one of her biggest achievements on YUSU, as well as helping to change a culture of casual sexism on campus.

However, it is her achievements as a sabbatical officer of which Grace feels most proud. 150 people used her new chlamydia testing service last term. “It’s the little things like that, the individual successes, which matter”, she says, smiling. “And doing the extra bit for students.

Those things make a difference.” Grace’s smile is suddenly overcast. “I feel really bad now”, she says. “I was going to say the main thing is just being there for students. But I’m not there anymore, and that feels really sad.”

When someone comes in and tells you they’re scared to go and see their supervisor, it’s so much easier if you just go with them. Someone came in for a pregnancy test once, and she didn’t want to see the results on her own, so I sat and had a cup of tea with her while she waited.

She was first threatened with a vote of no confidence when, as Women’s Officer in 2006, she protested angrily against proposals to remove equality officers from Executive Committee. She promptly resigned, freeing herself to spearhead the prominent “Vote No” campaign which ultimately derailed the proposals, and was gloriously reinstated weeks later, having shored up the position of liberation officers in the Union.

“I thought I would never want to see anyone from the Union again, but it’s not like that. I planned lots of nasty bitter things to say if I lost, but it’s a lot less weird than I thought it would be.”

Hackwood’s time at york

March 2004 – January 2006: After being elected as Women’s Officer for two terms she was threatened with a vote of no confidence for protesting against proposals to remove liberation officers from Executive Committee and thus resigned. She was later re-instated in a by-election.

April 2006-March 2007: Fletcher-Hackwood was elected as YUSU Policy and Campaigns Officer alongside being Vice Chair for the Univeristy of York Labour Club.

March 2007: She was elected as Academic and Welfare Officer in the YUSU elections .

May 2007: She came third in the York City Council elections standing as the Labour candidate for Heslington.

January 2008: Fletcher-Hackwood was forced to resign after losing a vote of no confidence put against her for hitting a student outside Chav D.

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