Durham Union Society allowed at Freshers’ Fair for the first time since 2020

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Durham Union Society (DUS) is to be allowed to participate in Durham Students’ Union Freshers Fair for the first time since 2020. 

This is despite a vote last year in which the Durham SU’s Assembly voted to continue the boycott of the DUS which included them being banned from the Freshers’ Fair. A vote has not been taken to end the boycott. 

The decision to allow the DUS into the Freshers’ Fair was announced in recognition of the work the society has taken to improve its equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and to give the Durham Students’ Union “an improvement opportunity to incentivise this change”. 

As part of the readmittance DUS agreed to recommendation to change including public consultation of key stakeholders, reformation of their Officers’ Code of Conduct and the promotion of the Equalities Officer to Standing Committee. 

In a statement the DUS said that “Although we believe that significant improvements have been made already, every organisation must challenge themselves to go further and maximise progress on issues surrounding EDI”. 

DUS was banned from taking part in Freshers’ fair, along with not being promoted by Durham Students’ Union and imposing a block on Durham Union using Dunelm house to host events in December 2020.

This decision was taken after allegations of bullying and bigotry were uncovered by Palatinate in July 2020 in which a former steward described DUS as a “safe haven for racists, demagogues and colonial apologists”. 

This has meant the society has not been able to participate in the 2021 or 2022 Freshers’ Fair, instead having to use alternative methods to reach freshers. 

It is necessary to create an environment in which the student debating organisation, Durham Union Society, can become an inclusive and functional member of the student community, not a negative and unaccountable one operating on the outskirts

Dan Lonsdale

In a statement Durham SU President Dan Lonsdale said that “it is necessary to create an environment in which the student debating organisation, Durham Union Society, can become an inclusive and functional member of the student community, not a negative and unaccountable one operating on the outskirts”. 

He said that “Our decision to allow DUS to purchase a commercial stall at the Freshers’ Fair is not an endorsement of their practices, their history or even of their existence. It is a recognition that both parties agree that having the same hostile debate every year, reopening the same wounds, and resolving nothing is unsustainable and at odds with building a better culture at Durham. DUS exists. It will continue to operate on campus for the foreseeable future. I believe Durham students will be better off because we have done this work.” 

He went onto say that “The co-operation of DUS with the SU throughout this journey is non-negotiable and our support – and access to our students via Durham SU fairs and events – is not unconditional. I want to assure students we will not allow any deviation from the standards agreed between both parties.”

In a statement Trustees of the DUS  said “In accordance with DUS’s fundamental values of enabling free speech for all, regardless of background, and in recognition of the need to make DUS a leader in supporting and positively encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), we as Trustees of DUS make the following commitments.

In consultation with the Society’s student leaders present and future, we have requested that the General Committee promotes the Equalities Officer to the Standing Committee as soon as possible in Michaelmas 2023. We have full confidence in our EDI plan published in Easter Term 2022, but we consider it necessary to demonstrate progress on its goals and so we will add to the Equality Officer’s new portfolio the responsibility to make public termly progress updates. Additionally, as outlined in our 2022 EDI plan, we will reform our Officers’ Code of Conduct, updating the Inclusion training recommended to our Officers, introducing a positive duty towards respect and inclusion and improving safeguarding for whistle-blowers.

As Trustees, we will recruit a new member of the Board of Trustees with relevant experience in EDI. We intend to complete this appointment by the start of Epiphany Term 2024.

Finally, we will establish a consultation of key stakeholders in the Durham community, including our members, to assess the progress of our EDI plan, to target any areas still requiring improvement and to ensure that DUS is a welcoming place for all students. This process will be overseen by the Trustees and managed by an independent individual/organisation appointed by the Trustees. We aim to have scoped and procured this consultation by the end of Epiphany Term 2024. Coordination with students will be conducted through the President and the Equalities Officer.

Through these measures, we intend to ensure greater cooperation with the Durham Students’ Union, reflected in our attendance at Freshers’ Fair 2023, and to build on our EDI progress, ensuring the DUS is a welcoming place for all members of the Durham community.”

Image: Uli Harder

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