By Josh Smith
Firstly, let me clarify that the
headlining article is not an attack on Durham Union Society.
But this editorial is.
DUS does a lot of important things. It holds interesting debates week after week, which tackle a range of issues and give voice to a stimulating variety of opinions. It is the largest and oldest society in Durham, which involves an incredible proportion of the student body and helps students excel at what they’re interested in: debating.
I’ve been fortunate enough to report on their charity work in the past, so I can vouch that by working with the vulnerable and disadvantaged, their efforts are unparalleled in some areas, and that certain members are a credit to the University.
Furthermore, DUS is one of the University’s leading bastions of free speech and I wholly respect that it is an integral part to the student experience in Durham.
But, and it’s a big ‘but’, its sense of tradition, its deep roots within the University and its power to invite those of celebrity status cannot hide where it has erred.
Last week, Godfrey Bloom was invited to speak at DUS for the eleventh time. Of course there is free speech, which must be meticulously maintained, but then there are issues of quality control: did Bloom’s fairly inarticulate speech contribute anything to last week’s debate? Did we need to hear this man speak for the eleventh time?
These wouldn’t be urgent questions if it was not for the shocking context Palatinate has uncovered. Evidence of the prioritisation of male speakers, evidence of DUS officers engaging in a shamefully racist debate, evidence of deep-divides within DUS and evidence of DUS ignoring students, hint at something much uglier.
From the way DUS holds debates and the sweeping issues they tackle, it is fair to suggest that DUS is controversial for the sake of being controversial.
And what does this accomplish?
Our investigation over the last two weeks has revealed a deeply-divided DUS. There are those who use DUS to debate and those who use DUS as a platform for sexist, racist, and quite frankly disgusting views.
Not that I mean to cause so much trouble in my first editorial, but I feel it’s my duty, and that of the paper’s, to report on these type of events and on the small handful of individuals that let many others down.
A key suspect mentioned in the article warned me of raking up the past for controvery’s sake and told me to “let the dead past bury itself”. This sense of unaccountability and failure to recognise the significance of where DUS goes wrong cannot carry on.
Palatinate has tried to get comment from the current DUS President and those that support DUS for balance, and has been ignored. Palatinate has also asked the University detailed questions about DUS and has been profoundly disappointed by the length and quality of its reply.
But this story is running anyway and I hope you find it enlightening.
Photograph: Flickr, Peter Bonnett