When we wrote our editorial last week pleading with EUSA candidates to avoid negative campaigning, we did so believing that they would be the ones likeliest to engage in this toxic, mean-spirited, and patently wrong practice.
We now realise that we were badly mistaken. We should have also included a plea to the student body at large, some members of whom have engaged in character assassination and misconduct so serious as to be without precedent in the last four years. To the perpetrators of these acts: we are ashamed to share this campus with you.
From well-substantiated allegations of racism, sexism and homophobia to vandalised and destroyed campaign materials, this election ticks all the wrong boxes and completely flies in the face of our now shattered hopes that this year’s exercise in student democracy would relegate such negativity to the past where it belongs.
Today, this venerable institution’s darkest undercurrents lay painfully exposed. Race relations are inflamed following a willfully misinterpreted but undeniably ill-considered Facebook comment by this year’s only black presidential candidate; this election’s only openly gay candidate for president has been called a “faggot” and has had his posters defaced with graffiti insinuating in no uncertain terms that he is a paedophile; and the end result has been a campus more divided and partisan than ever.
But perhaps most disturbingly given the aforementioned litany of disasters, the university’s ‘free speech’ brigade continues in its ludicrous insistence that discrimination neither poses a threat to this university nor deserves attempts at decisive action by the very body charged with protecting students. These people are wrong, and the events of the past week have left them completely discredited.
At the EdQT candidates’ debate, a presidential candidate made the point that EUSA will never have the power to fully eradicate prejudice from the student body. He is correct, but in no way does it follow that EUSA should not do everything within its power to foster a welcoming, safe environment for all students. This same candidate lists printing campus maps to stop students “getting lost in Teviot or The Pleasance” as his top manifesto priority. He – and we – would do well to raise our expectations for what EUSA can hope to achieve.
It is not too late for reconciliation, but reconciliation requires dialogue; this dialogue cannot happen until everyone admits that there is a problem. The first step to solving a problem, after all, is admitting that there is one.
Edinburgh, we have a problem.