‘Asylum’ was introduced to replace the former ‘Bedlam’ night, which was also held at the QMU. It is a monthly Glasgow alternative night which began in the mid-90s, originally being held at Nice’n’Sleazys before being moved to the QMU. 'Bedlam' nights ended in August 2013 and 'Asylum’ was to take over, with its launch night on 26 October.
Many students have contacted the Glasgow University Students Representative Council (SRC) and the QMU directly on Twitter asking if anything will be done to support students and prevent this sort of night happening again.
One tweet to the QMU asked: "What’s with your ‘Asylum’ goth night? Many students have mental illness, some will be in hospital, not cool."
Another tweet to the Union said: "'Become an inmate'? I'm saddened that you'd endorse something that reflects on you so badly. It's not a joke."
The SRC responded to one student who asked them: "What are you doing to support students with MH problems faced with this crap from the @QMunion?"
The SRC replied: “The SRC is very disappointed to see the QMU hosting 'Asylum' in their building. We've spoken with the QM and are content with the course of action they are taking at this stage. We will continue to oversee whether they are taking the right course of action on this. In the meantime the SRC is continuing its work on the See Me pledge to reduce stigma around MH on campus.”
However, when asked what these measures were, the SRC declined to comment, simply stating: "Think it's up to @QMunion to announce this themselves."
The QMU were slower to respond to the criticism on Twitter than the SRC, taking a week to reply. The QMU's statement when they did finally reply read: "In response to the recent complaints regarding the Halloween theme of the externally promoted event ‘Asylum’ held here at the Queen Margaret Union, we would like to make it clear firstly that both the QMU and promoters involved are sympathetic towards people with mental health issues, and no offence was intended by either the QMU or the promoters of the event towards those who suffer from mental health issues.
"Having met with the promoter, it has been agreed between the promoter and the QMU that the choice of ‘Medical/Demented/Horror’ theme for the Halloween event was misguided, and that this theme will not be repeated for any other regular or special events hosted by ‘Asylum’. Both the QMU and the promoter apologise for not recognising how this theme could cause offence."
The Glasgow Guardian spoke to former QMU Honorary President and Social Convenor, Kier Liddle, about the recent events. He believed that the QMU was in an "awkward position," saying that the night which 'Asylum' was replacing was "a stalwart room hire at the QM for decades... It has packed out an otherwise empty Qudos for many a year."
Liddle continued: "Bedlam/Asylum, and indeed the 'Gothic' vibe it promotes so well has a history of subverting the norm and finding horror in the mundane. It's always had a kind of tongue in cheek relationship with mental health and the like. Though I've never been aware of it crossing the line as it has in it's latest guise, with people in strait jackets receiving shock treatment and psychiatrists painted as some sort of malevolent force."
Liddle stressed that he doesn’t believe there was anything purposefully malicious in the naming of the event: "I don't think for one minute that the folks at Bedlam/Asylum are likely to be unsupportive of or hostile to those with mental health difficulties. I just think, and feel as someone with MH issues, that it's at best distasteful and at worst is selling a night based on an image of mental health that should be by now well out of date."
Liddle believes that the event name might have passed without controversy only a few years ago. He explained: "The difference is that now people are aware that this sort of imagery can be harmful in a very real sense," adding that the promotion of the Asylum nights in this way "stigmatises the sufferers and those who try to treat them."
The topic is one that is particularly current at the moment, with Asda's ‘mental patient fancy dress costume’ and Tesco's ‘psycho ward’ outfit both being criticised in September after causing similar offence. The outfits were subsequently taken off the shelves.
In addition to this, student Katie Sutton at the University of Salford started a campaign to get Thorpe Park to shut their ‘Asylum’ Halloween attraction, which she felt reinforced negative stereotypes surrounding people with mental health problems.
Sutton spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about the importance of students making their opinion known in cases such as this, commenting: "Young people are the adults of tomorrow; we’re the people who’ll be teaching the kids growing up that mental health stigma is wrong, and we need to get the message across to your peers so that we can try to ensure that people living with mental illness of the future can be free of fear of abuse, stigma and shame."
The QMU announced that the promoter of 'Asylum' will be donating all profits from the sale of the current stock of promotional badges to See Me Scotland, a charity focused on ending the stigma around mental health issues. The Union also stated that there would be attempts to refocus the meaning of the word 'Asylum' as a "safe haven" for the alternative community in Glasgow.
The QMU concluded by asking anybody who was upset by the marketing of the launch night to get in touch via the Asylum Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/asylumglasgow), as they aim to demonstrate "what an inclusive and open event it is."
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