A number of non-sports societies have spoken out against YUSU’s Societies Code of Conduct. Questions have been raised over its lack of consultation and the increased responsibility and pressure on society chairs.
The Societies Code of Conduct is a document published by YUSU that defines “the expected behaviour of all society members”. All society members are to adhere to the outlined terms.
One notable section of the code is dedicated to ‘Initiations’ and claims “YUSU and the University of York do not permit Initiation Ceremonies”, defining an initiation ceremony as an event where members are “expected to perform an activity as a means of gaining credibility, status or entry into that group”. However many sports societies at the University still hold initiation socials such as football, rugby and hockey, among others.
Previous initiations have been criticised for encouraging peer pressure, alcohol consumption, nudity and humiliating behaviour.
There is a clear guide to the sanctions that will be issued upon breach of the code to be applied to the society as a whole and individual members.
Sanctions range from writing a letter of apology to removing funding and disbanding the society. Individual members who breach the code can be excluded from YUSU, banned from society events and even the society itself. Appeals can be made to YUSU against any sanction made.
Societies are concerned because the Code of Conduct was not made clearly available to the wider student body before it was issued. The Code of Conduct has been taken from the code already agreed by sports clubs. There are also concerns over the responsibility of society chairs to communicate the code to members and the laborious task of having every member understand it.
Huw Davies, The University of York Conservative and Unionist Association Secretary, has raised concerns over the Code of Conduct saying: “I don’t think there is a need, particularly as it makes the chairman now liable for the actions of any one society member. The chair could literally be out of the country when an incident occurred and he would still be liable.”
YUSU Activities Officer Chris Wall has written a blog to respond to some of these issues and concerns.
He claims that consultation had been sought from YUSU and University professionals and that society Presidents simply have to make members aware of the code’s expectations. He closed with the following statement:
“I will not apologise for trying to educate our members in what can be considered harassment… Perhaps this is not the best way to do that, and I agree that certain elements could have been handled slightly better, but our Union is committed to zero tolerance. Anything we can do to help make that a reality is something we will seriously consider implementing.”
It is unclear whether YUSU now have the power to exclude members from societies without the society’s consent.