YUSU has come under fire after failing to address the ambiguous self-definition of racial background requirements for Racial Equality Officers, outlined in their constitution.
The YUSU constitution states: “Candidates for Racial Equality Officer must be black by the National Union of Students definition.”
Under National Union of Students (NUS) guidelines, ‘black’ is an all-encompassing definition, that includes African, Caribbean, Asian and Middle Eastern students.
Many students at the University of York have claimed to be outraged at YUSU’s decision to use the obscure NUS definition, feeling that it detracts from their own identity. One black student, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “I feel that this definition detracts from my identity. I get that the NUS has its definition but why does York have to have the same one?”
A first-year student from another ethnic minority origin who, under the YUSU and NUS definition, is classed as ‘black’, said: “I don’t like that I am being put under ‘black’; I’m not black.”
Questions have been raised as to why, despite a myriad of complaints, YUSU have failed to change the definition.
YUSU’s general feeling is that of difficulty in finding a widely accepted alternative term for the required racial background of a Racial Equality Officer. The term, also used by the University of Cambridge, is one that they feel is particularly difficult to resolve and the current definition is the best option that they know of. YUSU admitted that the term has caused them problems in the past.
When confronted about the issue, Jason Rose, YUSU Campaign’s Officer, claimed that although YUSU had approached the matter in the past, to create a new definition would mean the huge effort of having to “constitutionalise what an ethnic minority is”.
The use of the word ‘black’ to describe students from non-black backgrounds has often been seen as insensitive.
However, YUSU has argued that there is no perfect description for such a wide range of different, non-Caucasian groups.
Rose continued to say that the general consensus towards the effort involved in creating a new definition was: “Bollocks to it”.
Ben Humphrys, YUSU Welfare Officer, said: “The central problem with constitutionally defining who fits under the remit of the racial equality officers is that there is no common wording for this which doesn’t have substantial difficulties.”
Abrafi Kusi and Deniz Ekren, YUSU Racial Equalities Officers, said: “We appreciate that there may be some ambiguity and this wording is being actively reviewed. We welcome any alternative suggestions.”
The question of changing the definition has been raised before, both at York and other universities, some of which have proceeded to change the definition in their own constitution.
‘BME’ (Black and Minority Ethnic) has often been used as an alternative term by other universities such as Oxford and UCL. However, the use of this wording has also prompted serious debates.