Former sabbatical officer Thomas ‘Tron’ Ron has criticised the way YUSU elections are conducted, insisting that campaign teams lack accountability and that the mental health of candidates could be at risk.
The previous Academic Officer proposes reform to prevent malpractice between candidates, admitting that he “did some nasty things and painted inaccurate pictures of opponents” in previous elections.
He now calls upon this year’s candidates to “run a clean election” and for YUSU to “step up and make changes”.
Speaking to Nouse, Ron described a widespread history of negative campaigning throughout YUSU elections, much of which occurred against his favour last year.
“The spring term of 2016 was one of the worst months I had in my life,” Ron disclosed. “Seeing people who I trusted stab me in the back…absolutely destroyed my mental health.”
Ron believes that associates of his opponent’s campaign team “used Yik Yak and student media to paint a picture of me that they knew was inaccurate” in order to settle personal grudges.
The former officer recommends that YUSU enforces a register of campaign team members, entailing a list of all individuals campaigning on behalf of a candidate. He believes it would enable the candidates to be held to account for the actions of their campaign team, preventing foul play from going undetected.
Despite acknowledging that his election rival was not aware of any underhand behaviour, Ron asserted that “YUSU must make it clear that not knowing is not an excuse”.
Concerned for future candidates’ wellbeing, Ron offered the following advice: “It’s not worth screwing over someone’s mental health [to win a position] … do you really want to win that way?” He also highlighted that “friends of candidates need to be there for them”.
The intensity of criticism candidates have faced throughout past elections has been exacerbated by social media, most notably by ‘Yik Yak’ last year. On the location-based message board, which previously enabled anonymous posting, candidates could be targeted personally for all students to see.
Since Yik Yak has banned anonymous posting, with some US campuses moving to ban the app, this appears to have wavered as a factor in student elections. However, Ron warns that this “does not mean that there won’t be another way for people to make candidates feel shit about themselves.”
When asked about the existing framework of support for candidates, Ron described being fast-tracked to an appointment with the University’s Open Door service within a week. He stated that sabbatical officers are entitled to the same pastoral care provision as students, and that YUSU staff were helpful in a personal capacity.
YUSU’s Community and Wellbeing Officer, Dom Smithies, acknowledged that campaigning in elections is “undoubtedly a challenging process”. Further to this, he gave the following statement:
“We’re looking to do more with the candidates than ever this year. We will make the support systems clearer and will promote key messages around anti-social behaviour on social media. As always, it’s clear that harassment and abuse are not acceptable and not welcome during YUSU elections or at any other time. In the event that lines are crossed there are sanctions available to YUSU and we will go through proper channels and use them.
“In addition to a positive campaigning environment we will be providing some healthy food options for candidates during campaigning just to help ease the pressure when they’re most busy.”