A row over student elections at University College dissipated this week after its Vice Senior Student apologised for a Facebook comment. The elections were mired in controversy after several first-year candidates accused the Executive Committee of pressuring them to drop out.
The freshers alleged that they were pressured in meetings, via social media and in private messages from senior figures in college to drop out of the ongoing JCR elections. The college rejected any allegations of wrongful intervention in the election process.
Late last Friday, several second-year students posted a series of attacks on the Executive Committee on the College’s main Facebook group: “I arrived at Castle believing in Democracy. This Month I Lost All Hope. I left Believing in Freshers. I Left Believing in F**K THE EXEC.” Another wrote: “If you’re not a friend of the current exec, give Castle a miss.”
“It’s just frustrating”, one of those posting told Palatinate: “They try to bar others outside of the in-group from joining and making a change based off a lack of experience that they can’t gain as they control the application process”.
Palatinate understands that several second-years have been called in to disciplinary meetings at the college for cyberbullying. Some of the posts contained personal targeted and abusive language at current and former student volunteers.
In response to the incident, Castle’s Senior Student Ferdinand Schultz, said: “The JCR does not tolerate any form of verbal abuse, not in a physical nor in a virtual form. I have made it my goal to make Castle a safe place for everyone.
“Everyone who does not agree with this goal and actively engages in attacking someone personally has not understood the values of Castle and will be held accountable”. He added that “being under the influence of alcohol does not and never has excused or justified any form of abuse”.
The Vice Senior Student offered an apology over a comment he made on Facebook, where he had told a fresher candidate: “Please have a serious think about the things you can actually do as Vice Senior Student […] this is not a joke”. He said the comments were “abrupt and harsh” and urged the college to move on.
A student involved in the first-years’ campaigns told Palatinate: “We have found the whole campaign process very hostile, with many members of the Exec trying to pressure Fresher candidates to stand down or not to run in the first place.” After the Vice Senior Student’s apology, he added that “we hope to rebuild this relationship between JCR and Exec through transparent communication. We look forward to a democratic election”.
It is understood that the apology has eased tensions, with most of the first-year candidates still running for positions in the current elections.
The college denied claims of undue pressure on election candidates. In response to a Palatinate enquiry, the college has emphasised that it is normal for members of the Executive Committee to speak to candidates before they run, irrespective of who they are or how long they have been in the college.
Castle JCR Chair Richard Waters told Palatinate: “It has been an immense challenge to recreate the breadth of discussion and scrutiny that would be given to candidates in a normal year in an online environment. It is important and fair that candidates receive scrutiny from any JCR member. Exec members are JCR members themselves and have the same right to question candidates as do any other JCR member.”
“It is my job to ensure that this process is fair. I believe that this is as fair a process as we could have run during Covid-19. I have full confidence in the JCR democratic processes and look forward to the hustings where the debate can be continued.”
“We have already had one election round in which our Senior Student Elect, Sian Bell, was elected. That election was well run, and we are using the same formula in this round. At no point have the current executive committee attempted to unduly influence any elections.
“Both the executive committee, the JCR Vice-Chairs and I as JCR Chair have put in a vast amount of time to ensure that these elections are fair and that the candidates are well prepared for the campaign.”
A record number have already turned out to vote in the most recent round of elections, which close this evening.
Image: Zoë Boothby