The lacklustre campaigns of this year’s sabbatical officer elections are indicative of a larger problem within the university as a whole. We are vastly disappointed with and underwhelmed by EUSA, the elected sabbatical candidates, and the systems that are intended to support liberation groups but actually further marginalize them. This letter is a last resort option for us, as our elected terms are coming to an end, and we are massively disillusioned with EUSA and their lack of prioritization and support for the liberation groups and section groups.
EUSA has failed to enforce the self-definition upon which the liberation groups are based, has refused to acknowledge the rampant cultural appropriation featured in one sabbatical campaign, and has made little effort to educate the student body about the importance of a diverse representation team. None of the questions included in EdQT addressed the cultural appropriation, despite numerous tweets mentioning it. Cultural appropriation is defined as ‘the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture.’ EUSA has a zero tolerance policy for Halloween costumes that appropriate other cultures, and yet, incorporating it into a sabbatical campaign has been met without challenge and greeted by success. Despite numerous complaints about cultural appropriation within a certain campaign, EUSA failed to take any action, simply shifting responsibility to the Black and Minority Ethnic Group Convener. Sidelining the issue to the BME convener to make a decision on whether or not it was cultural appropriation, which it blatantly is, places a huge burden on a liberation officer to speak out against a potential, and now elected, EUSA President and reiterate a decision that EUSA already has an official stance on. This is a prime example of the lack of support for Liberation Group Conveners and how EUSA forces responsibility onto their shoulders.
One elected candidate went as far as advocating that study rooms for disabled students would be reallocated to become ‘library relaxation rooms’. Another elected candidate proclaimed that they would mandate liberation representatives be paid, without realizing that this goes well beyond the remit of any sabbatical officer and was indeed already a part of the referendum proposals, highlighting the false and uninformed promises that are so often made. Regardless of the overall intent of these ambitions, these candidates are illiterate on liberation issues and fail to understand the fundamental issues affecting these groups.
Almost all of the candidates assured their voters that they would expand counselling sessions and decrease waiting times, with little acknowledgement of the larger mental health issues and illnesses that have caused the increase in demand in the first place. Funding for the counselling service has increased by 87% in the past five years, while the NHS has a six to twelve month waiting list for mental health services in Edinburgh. Candidates are quick to promise decreased waiting times and more sessions with the counselling service, but fail to understand the mechanisms at work which have caused these circumstances. The vague mention of ‘mental health’, ‘wellbeing’, and ‘community’ are election-winning manifesto points, but the lack of literacy on chronic mental health illnesses or disabilities reinforce the elected candidates’ ignorance of the issues that are affecting students the most.
Not a single elected candidate had mentioned the devastating Prevent Duty legislation, introduced in 2015, or the impact it will have on international students, Black and Minority Ethnic students, and numerous other groups. Prevent is one the most troubling issues facing the student at the University, and none of the elected candidates acknowledged the damage it may cause to current or future students. What is startling to us is the lack of knowledge that all of the elected candidates possess and, further, their ignorance on issues that affect more than just the ‘average student’.
We lament the lack of diversity in the candidate pool, particularly the presidential campaigns which featured two white men in the running for president. EUSA must make more of an effort to reach out to more students and to encourage them to run for sabbatical positions while at the same time cracking down on candidates who blatantly disregard the election rules and safe space policy. It is troubling to us that a candidate was able to run for a liberation position for a group they had been banned from due to hate speech and rampant abuse of other members. EUSA failed to investigate this quickly, despite knowing that this candidate had run numerous times for several positions. Additionally, none of the elected sabbatical candidates acknowledged the discrimination faced by trans people or how they would enforce and encourage the use of gender-neutral toilets throughout the university.
The elected sabbatical candidates’ lack of knowledge on mental health and liberation issues is astounding. It illustrates a larger problem at the university in which a lack of education causes further marginalization of already oppressed groups. We hope that future generations of sabbatical officers will be more representative of the student body and that they immediately educate themselves on liberation and section group issues. With a heavy heart, we leave our positions this year thoroughly disappointed and dismayed, and can only hope that the future of EUSA will include a diverse selection of candidates who acknowledge and understand the issues that affect the student body.
Disability and Mental Wellbeing Liberation Group Convener
LGBT+ Liberation Group Convener
Black and Minority Ethnic Liberation Group Convener
Women’s Liberation Group Convener
International Student Group Convener
Image: Neil Turner