Individuals in the University of York rugby club look to face severe disciplinary action after posting several highly racist comments on the clubs’ official Twitter account last Thursday.
The tweets, which were posted at around midnight on the UYRUFC account, included racial slurs such as the highly offensive N-word, as well as the statement “pack of third years getting fucking shitfaced in Leeds…BLACK.” The Twitter account has 149 followers from both within and outside of the University.
Whilst the comments were made on the official rugby club Twitter account, two individuals have now been found responsible following an internal club investigation, and have been stripped of all committee positions, rights and privileges, expelled from the rugby club, and will be made to pay any financial punishment the club may receive as a result.
Students and YUSU Officers have reacted in outrage against the openly racist remarks, particularly since they were made in an open and public forum. Sam Asfahani, York Sport President, said: “It is undeniable these are terrible posts, particularly as they were made on a public forum. As an ethnic minority myself, I believe in zero tolerance towards racism.”
The full scope of the disciplinary action is to be decided by the YUSU trustee board, a body with overarching power over York Sport and YUSU. This gives them the authority to impose fines, match bans, expulsion from York Sport or even full expulsion for breach of the University’s Equality and Diversity policy.
The policy states that: “The University undertakes publicly and actively to promote good personal and community relations; ensure that staff and students are aware of the procedures for dealing with harassment; train staff to deal firmly, consistently and effectively with racist incidents and harassment or bullying; and ensure that the University continues to play a significant role in tackling racism and harassment within the wider community.
Breach of this Race Equality Policy will be regarded as a serious matter. Where a breach is proved, disciplinary action (which could include dismissal or expulsion) may be taken against those responsible.”
Asfahani fully supported the decision of Union Council to take the incident out of the hands of York Sport and put it to the trustee board to settle on the punishment, calling it “fair. One person shouldn’t play judge, jury and executor.”
He added: “In my personal view there should be some form of punishment, but it should be on the guilty individuals. I hate to see how it is a minority giving the club a bad name.”
Basim Al-Ahmadi, the YUSU Racial Equality Offficer, released a statement condemning the “shameful” actions of the club, and called for a serious YUSU and University response.
“Not only are they representing the University on this public social network, which can result in the tarnishing of the University’s integrity and reputation due to the numerous people who saw these posts, they have offended the black community and anyone for that matter who has a moral conscience,” he said.
“As Racial Equality Officers, we have a duty to protect the welfare and self-respect of ethnic minorities and to champion diversity on this campus and this leads me to act strongly on this matter. We would like to push forward a very strong course of action. We want to strongly penalize the rugby club. This I believe is necessary, measured and reasonable.”
Speaking to Union Council, Al-Ahmadi criticised the failure of the rugby club to apologise immediately, which he argued showed “a lack of initiative and decency.”
However when contacted, Rory McGregor, outgoing rugby President, issued and apology on behalf of the club.
“As soon as we realised what had happened on Friday morning it was deleted, as this is obviously not condoned in any way by the club,” he said. “We have since changed the passwords so whoever did this will no longer be able to voice their opinions via the club.
“I would like to offer the sincerest apology for any offence it may have caused, but would reiterate this should not reflect on the club, but the stupid individual.”
Asfahani added: “To say they did nothing is harsh. Rory deleted the tweets as soon as he was aware of them on Friday morning, and called me immediately to let me know. Myself and Rory are taking it very seriously, and agree that it is not a subject to be taken lightly. We are in no way under the impression it can be passed off as banter.”
Cem Turhan, Langwith Chair, spoke out, commenting “their racist posts disgust and upset me.”
“When I found out about the incident I was shocked and appalled. One of my main upsets is the fact that we as a student union are affiliated with this team. If a society had done the same, I’d expect deratification, and I’m sure a lot of others would.”
The incident has also led to the Racial Equality Officers demanding a new policy framework that directly addresses issues of racism by students on social networking sites or other online public forums. Union Council agreed last week that York Sport would work to put together a new code of conduct for clubs under its remit.
They proposed it provide “concrete reference when acting on future incidents which are similar to this, most specifically, issues regarding racism in relation to public social networking usage by clubs/societies representing the University.”
Al-Ahmadi continued: “We are aware that there is no policy which directly refers to specific incidents such as this, as it hasn’t happened before. This is why an example needs to be set now. The policy outline will have to include the zero-tolerance policy towards racism which YUSU prides itself on.
“Therefore, any form of racist comments made – similar to the ones made by the rugby club – will be penalized with no exception.”
Asfahani spoke in favour of the expansion of the York Sport social policy. “We expanded it this year, and it has done good things, particularly with sports initiations, as we have had no complaints this year. It clearly worked, so we can work to cover and prevent incidents like this.”
Turhan added: “The argument as to what punishment was long, but overall we need to address that what happened is plain wrong.
“I don’t care if it was a joke. Racism is deplorable, and so are those doing the act. The ‘banter culture’ many sports team at York University fits into is all good and fair, but as soon as it affects and infringes upon other people, as it did on Twitter, which of course is a world platform, the boundaries of decency it often already infringes on are broken.
Kallum Taylor, Vanbrugh College Chair, also voiced his support for the disciplining of the rugby club, and proposals for a new code of conduct for sports clubs.
“I fully back this to the hilt” he said. “There could be potential freshers looking at this. We need more than an apology.”