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An open letter to EUSA: You are failing liberation groups and their members

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.

Co-signed,

Jessica Killeen
Disability and Mental Wellbeing Liberation Group Convener

Rachel Ram
LGBT+ Liberation Group Convener

Shuwanna Aaron
Black and Minority Ethnic Liberation Group Convener

Maia Almeida-Amir
Women’s Liberation Group Convener

Montana Kimel
International Student Group Convener

Image: Neil Turner

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10 Responses

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  1. Raj
    Mar 24, 2016 - 12:13 AM

    Under this definition of cultural appropriation, as an Indian male, just by wearing blue jeans I’m appropriating western culture. Ridiculous.

    Reply
    • Heather
      Mar 24, 2016 - 10:04 AM

      Yeah, the definition in this article is too simplistic, there needs to be a consideration of power differentials between cultures. What you’re describing is cultural assimilation.

      Reply
  2. Gwynn
    Mar 24, 2016 - 11:12 AM

    I wonder if the authors of this letter are even able to breath given they’re on such a high horse?

    Shout out from someone allegedly part of the ‘liberation’ – for most of us, your irritating whining just leaves us embarrassed. Thanks for making the entire student body hate our cause!

    Reply
  3. Helen
    Mar 24, 2016 - 12:32 PM

    ‘enforce and encourage the use of gender-neutral toilets throughout the university.’

    I’m concerned that these authors think these toilets need to be ‘enforced’ or ‘encouraged’ in any way. Those who want to use them will use them, there hardly needs to be posters encouraging people to go to a different toilet than the one they want to.

    Reply
    • Milan No
      Mar 24, 2016 - 01:54 PM

      I /hope/ they mean the establishment of such toilets throughout the campus. They do, after all, exist only in EUSA venues, and even there not in the rate that was intended.

      Reply
  4. Ayl
    Mar 24, 2016 - 03:20 PM

    This is why people don’t take EUSA seriously. Please stop pontificating about Hawaiian shirts being offensive and do your job. The rest of the university would appreciate it.

    Reply
  5. Jason
    Mar 24, 2016 - 06:03 PM

    Liberation groups and Reps have had at least five Student Councils to pass their motions, all of which have gone through without much (if any) resistance. This is simply a reaction to the fact (right or wrong) that the student body was not engaged by the arguments of liberation groups, and did not elect the people that liberation groups view as the most positive for their own aims.

    Sadly, EUSA is a democracy.

    The representation across the candidates in the Sabb elections was poor, but that is not the candidates’ fault, that’s EUSA’s fault at failing to engage with the wider body of students because they are viewed as being out of touch due to what goes on at Student Council.

    Student Council is dominated by liberation politics and radical left politics, if liberation groups can’t engage and, crucially, educate students during the Sabb elections and lose to less radical or liberation based politics, that is not EUSA’s problem, that is an issue for liberation politics itself.

    Reply
  6. Priya
    Mar 24, 2016 - 11:43 PM

    I take fault with this letter because it writes off the sabbatical team before they even take office. It isn’t fair to them nor is it fair to the student body, who elected many of these candidates in landslide margins, to have efforts to deligitimise the sabbs before they even take office. Furthermore, of the 9 candidates who ran, only two of them were straight white males. The others being either women or lgbt.

    The issues addressed by liberation groups are incredibly important to not only this university, but also to society. I just wish the authors could convey the issues raised in this letter in a more constructive manner.

    Reply
    • anonymous
      Mar 25, 2016 - 01:20 PM

      “The elected sabbatical candidates’ lack of knowledge on mental health and liberation issues is astounding” – absolutely ridiculous comment based, homogenising all the sabbatical officers into one group as well, based, presumably on the comments of one candidate. At least one, if not more of the sabbs would self define into the mental health liberation group, so what, is this article telling them they don’t understand their own problem? More about egos than actually improving anyone’s time at university.

      Reply
  7. Anon student
    Mar 26, 2016 - 06:17 PM

    “The elected sabbatical candidates’ lack of knowledge on mental health and liberation issues is astounding”

    What is astounding is elected lib officers deciding for themselves what these four individuals experiences of mental health issues are. How do they know what they have experienced in their lives. I suggest they read the candidates responses to the Black Triangle Society to see how they engaged with these issues on an individual basis.

    This article is a mesh of stuff, basically

    1. Some reasonable points, especially about the ‘relaxation room’ issue which is a very bad and ill thought out policy that would rightly make any disabled student livid

    2. Bitterness from Lib conveners that their mates didn’t get elected

    3. Bigoted assumptions that the Sabs-elect have no idea about mental health issues (paradoxically it seems more the case that our “liberation” officers have less of an idea than they like to imagine due to the fact they have posted unfounded allegations on the internet – something that would cause mental health triggers to anyone).

    4. Outgoing conveners wanting a final throw of the dice before they graduate into probable irrelevance into the global labor market

    5. An inability for those who lost to reflect upon why they lost. Many of the winning Sabs simply ran better campaigns on social media, they were far more visible around campus and they had far bigger teams of people willing to volunteer – this is an open election in which the likes of Hannah BM and Harriet lost and they lost objectively because their campaigns were very poor and they didn’t seem to understand how to use stuff like social media or how to appeal to individuals across the university in comparison to their competitors.

    Reply

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The Student Newspaper 2016