CANDIDATES IN THIS year’s YUSU elections have complained that an activity at a mandatory training session has resulted in outings and was “needlessly divisive”. The session involved standing next to varied denominations of social identity and also asking personal questions around said identifications, which were: sexual orientation, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, and class.
One of the candidates who spoke to Nouse said that they had been asked “which aspect of your identity was most emphasised in your family”, which they were said to be uncomfortable with, due to the negative connotations of this particular candidate’s family’s relationship with their sexuality.
Summing up how divisive the session was received was one candidate’s illustration of the event with “LGBTQ students standing on one side of the room with a bunch of straight white men standing on the other”. One candidate told Nouse that the activity “led to explanations which outed people or candidates deliberately hiding aspects of [their] identity”.
According to someone present, the activity also didn’t let candidates know they had the right to abstain, a fact that was only made clear after the activities had ended and candidates raised their concerns. A candidate added that even if said right had been presented, it would effectively serve the same purpose as walking over to the signs. The candidates were also allegedly not told about the personal nature of the activity beforehand, exacerbating the invasiveness of the activity’s format.
This is the second time the activity has been a part of YUSU elections, and the second time in which the partakers have raised their concerns. One participant who was at both years’ events said that the training session had remained effectively unchanged from the previous year.
Nouse has been informed that this activity was also lacking of chances for the participants to emphasise their concerns, in the form of a debriefing. Many expressed the needlessness of the blatant and obvious way in which the candidates had to express their identities. Some candidates suggested that YUSU do away with the activity all together.
A further blow to the event was the lack of accessibility candidates felt the event afforded. The session required a prolonged period of standing, again without forewarning, leaving people who are part of marginalised communities, namely disabled students, feeling further alienated.
Overall candidates who spoke to Nouse were left “massively disappointed”. It remains to be seen whether whomever runs the next YUSU election will heed the calls for change in the training that some have called for.
One candidate told Nouse: “Questions such as ‘which aspect of your identity was most emphasised in your family’ may be uncomfortable for some candidates … sexuality was without a doubt the most emphasised aspect of my identity within my family, but for very negative reasons.”
When asked for a response to the allegations, YUSU President Alex Urquhart told Nouse: “While we are sorry to hear Nouse’s report that some students felt uncomfortable, there was absolutely no requirement for participants to share identities or disclose personal experiences that they did not wish to. Candidates were entirely free to make a choice about whether or not they participated. They were informed of this at an appropriate point.
“YUSU welcomes constructive feedback on the candidate training session. Candidates had been invited to inform organisers of access needs ahead of the training day and the training was designed to accommodate those needs. It drew on feedback from a similar session in the 2017 candidate training and was incorporated into the 2018 session at the specific request of students, who on the whole were extremely positive about the session.
“YUSU is committed to creating an inclusive, respectful and welcoming environment for all members. This element of the candidate training used a session on intercultural dialogue that has been delivered extensively throughout the University as part of intercultural competency training. The activity was a variation of a common ‘identity corners’ workshop, which encourages participants to think about different social identities and the emotional influence they carry. It is designed for participants to recognise the spectrum of perspectives around social identities to help highlight to the candidates the diversity of the student body, and therefore the importance of being sensitive and respectful when campaigning.”