Today the outrage over the sexist heckling at a Glasgow University Union debate on Saturday night reached a new peak. Following threats by prominent student societies to disaffiliate from the GUU if further action was not taken, a petition has also gone viral online and has attracted nearly 3000 signatures of students from across Britain.
The petition calls for the suspension or expulsion of those members involved in the sexist heckling, which included alleged calls from a popular ex-President of ‘Get that woman out my union’.
Hundreds of students have joined a ‘Boycott the GUU’ Facebook event after their disappointment at the lack of action taken by the GUU board. Five societies have so far threatened disaffiliation, including Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association, Glasgow University Labour Club and Glasgow University Coalition of Resistance.
At a preliminary meeting this evening, it was announced disciplinary action would only be taken against two of the perpetrators due to a ‘lack of evidence’, despite several eye witness accounts. Some students have expressed concern over the handling of the issue by the GUU after the Debates Convenor referred to the incident as ‘funny’ on Facebook.
In a statement released today, the heads of GUU debates said: “We are angry, saddened, but in all honesty, not completely surprised that visitors to our debating home and our student Union have been left to feel unwelcome by some members. That anger is only intensified by the fact that those who feel intimidated and hurt by this behaviour are our friends and people who have made our institution and others feel welcome and safe in their own student Unions and at their own competitions.
“We feel ashamed that [the debaters who were heckled] were let down not just by the individual actions of a few spectators, but collectively by the GUU officials who we feel refused to take such complaints seriously.
“We will be campaigning for the Union to use its disciplinary powers in a timely and transparent manner to hold to account those who fell well below the standard of behaviour expected of all GUU members. The GUU must send a clear message to its membership and to those beyond its doors that discrimination will not be tolerated. It must send a clear message to those of us who have fought in recent years to make GUU debating a more welcoming place, that our efforts have not been not wasted. Failing that, we cannot in good conscience continue to represent it.
“We feel that the Union’s response… has so far been unsatisfactory. Our primary concern, therefore, is that the women who have been demeaned and derided simply for being female are apologised to and that meaningful steps are taken to provide them with redress.”
The disciplinary hearing panel, which will take place on March 20th, will be chaired by the President Elect Gavin Tulloch. Prosecution will be led by Imogen Dewar, current Debates Convenor and incoming Honorary Secretary. Incoming Vice President will decide the result of the hearing a ‘proven’ or ‘not proven’. A lifetime ban from the Union has been outlined as a possible punishment.
David Lockhart, President of the GUU, also explained steps are being taken to stop a repeat of the weekend’s incident. He said: “I met with the Debates Committee last night to discuss how to move forward positively from this incident and ensure that such events do not recur in future. We are looking to now implement new procedures to GUU debates including equity training for Board Members to ensure they are trained in how to deal with complaints and additions to our Standing Orders to make it clear that offensive heckling will not be tolerated. Furthermore we will be revising our complaints procedure to ensure that all members are made completely aware of how to make a complaint and then how such a complaint should be handled. GUU is taking this issue extremely seriously and apologises for any offence that has been caused.”
Michael Gray, President of the Dialectic Society, felt the meeting with the Debates Committee was being misrepresented by the GUU Board of Management. He stated that only “more apologies” and “excuses” were made. He went on to suggest maybe the GUU executives are “not the best people to lead this process”.
On top of the prominent clubs and societies threatening to disaffiliate, one member is known to have resigned their membership to the Union. The societies affiliated with the GUU have demanded full disciplinary action of the members involved in the sexist heckling, as well as a wider consultation with societies in order for members to be able to raise concerns.
Regarding this, Lockhart continued: “I’d hope that Clubs and Societies will not disaffiliate with Glasgow University Union despite the incident at the Ancients Final on Saturday. If any such groups have any concerns regarding their affiliation they should be sent to GUU Assistant Honorary Secretary, Robbie Warke.”
The University and SRC will be working with Union management to tackle the issues at the GUU, as demonstrated this weekend. An University spokesperson expressed deep regret over what transpired. They said: “The University authorities welcome the full and unreserved apology that has already been extended by the GUU President. The University is also supporting the GUU in its investigation into the disruptive behaviour during the contest. The University will not tolerate abusive, threatening or sexist behaviour.
“The University of Glasgow operates a clear code of conduct for registered students and any breaches of the code will be dealt with through a well-established procedure. The code of conduct covers harassment. It also covers disorderly, threatening, offensive, indecent or violent behaviour and the use of threatening, offensive or indecent language. The Code also requires action to punish discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender, political or religious beliefs, race, ethnic or national origin, sexual orientation or socio-economic background.”
The SRC Executives released a statement about the events that transpired on Saturday night. They hope to be able to work with the Union and the University to resolve these issues and any further problems at the GUU. The statement said: “GUSRC would like to express its profound disappointment. The comments that were reported were absolutely unacceptable, and should be condemned. We are pleased that the executive of the GUU are taking this matter very seriously, and that action is being taken.
“While we understand that the comments made were not representative of the views of the membership of the GUU as a whole, we believe that action must be taken to prevent abuse like this from happening again.
“We would like to work with the GUU and the university in developing a long-term action plan to improve the treatment of women at the GUU, and help create a more inclusive culture, in order to combat misogyny and sexism within the GUU. This is an issue where we should all be able to work together for the best interests of our students.”
At tonight’s meeting, GUU Board Members also expressed hope in changing the “cultural problems as a whole” at the Union.
Colum Fraser, President of sister union QMU, hopes the University will not suffer due to the behaviour of a minority of GUU members. He said: “While this issue does not directly fall under my own remit, or that of the Queen Margaret Union, the coverage and scrutiny it is garnering is detrimental to both the University as a whole, and specifically to the Unions, as the national press do not necessarily understand or portray our dual-Union structure. Our organisation and members are being tarred with the same ugly brush as many the aspects of Glasgow University Union – and the debating community on campus – that were not involved in the incident or aftermath. While the entire affair has been deeply frustrating and regrettable – I am both proud and honoured that the two speakers at the centre of last Saturday’s events – Marlena and Rebecca – chose to name their team ‘QMU’.”