By Tristan Pahl
The Durham Union Society has come a long way in just a few years, recognising that reform is needed.
Several measures are already underway, although the COVID-19 situation understandably slowed these projects, but I want to reassure members that the Union is taking criticism seriously. The success of the Union goes far beyond our events and its impacts far beyond the debating chamber. We already work with full-time local staff, across Durham colleges, with members past, present and future, and the wider Durham community, but we can do more.
We need to be inclusive and must ensure there continue to be different groups involved in running and taking part in our society. When I was in charge of 24 North Bailey Club, I used my power to expel groups that expressed racial abuse at our patrons. In coordination with our Sponsorship Secretary Tamara Celeste Herrington, I put together the first LGBT+ Pride Night event in 24s. As President I intend to continue this direction of travel. Let our actions, and our plan speak louder than words.
I am delighted to report that Michaelmas Term features among the highest proportions of female and minority ethnic representation. Our addresses will include talks from a Syrian refugee, a best-selling author and the former leader of a major UK party. There will be debates on Israel-Palestine, on wearing poppies, and whether we should all be vegans. There will be high-quality debate training for all levels, and of course socials to meet and embed change. I’d encourage members to join, discuss issues, and contribute to change.
As a society of over three thousand members, the executive cannot be held accountable for all views expressed by the rank and file, and free expression is a mantra the society takes seriously. However, our commitment to free speech coexists with a zero-tolerance policy for personal harassment or bullying: to that effect, individuals have been barred this year from serving as officers for remarks reported by Palatinate this month.
To ensure accountability, all meetings are minuted; minutes and finance reports are made available. I look forward to increasing transparency – I am committed to passing a Code of Conduct to provide clarity as to when lines are crossed and allow disciplinary decisions to be taken more impartially in future. This is being drafted with a wide group of individuals, including persons of colour, at every stage.
There’s room for debate on how to run the Durham Union. I’d encourage anyone concerned to communicate their concerns, and collaborate to make the Union a better place.
I look forward to seeing you in Michaelmas Term,
Image: Peter Bonnett via Flickr