By Cameron McIntosh
Shakira Martin, the President of the National Union of Students (NUS), is the subject of an internal investigation into allegations of bullying and intimidation at the Union’s HQ.
Ms Martin categorically denies any wrongdoing and has hit back at her critics, claiming she is the victim of “racism and classism”.
All union officers were instructed to work from home while an investigation into the conduct of Ms Martin was carried out at their London headquarters. An NUS spokesperson said it was a temporary measure to “protect all parties”.
The allegations against the President were first made after she became embroiled in a social media exchange with Mark Crawford, University College London Postgraduate Students’ Officer. In a tweet that has since been deleted, he labelled the NUS President a “scab” during a dispute over student protests.
Ms Martin was criticised for likening a critical Tweet to her domestic abuse
This prompted Ms Martin to liken the exchange to domestic abuse. In a public post on Facebook, she said: “This is the name calling and abuse I have to put up with. I’m a scab now yeh… these people are as abusive as my ex was too me [sic], emotionally trying to break me down at every level every single day. I feel like I’m back in a domestic abuses realationship [sic].”
The NUS women’s officer, Hareem Ghani, responded to the exchange by announcing that she intended to report Martin for bullying.
On Twitter, she publicly denounced the comparison to domestic abuse and made clear her intentions to seek an investigation into the President’s conduct in recent months.
“She has threatened and bullied officers over the last six months,” the NUS Women’s Officer writes
She wrote: “I spent this morning debating whether to remain silent on such a horrendous (and frankly dangerous) comparison between political accountability and domestic violence.
“I’ll be submitting a complaint against the President. Not only [because] of this horrendous comparison, but [because] she has threatened and bullied officers over the course of the last 6 months.”
After live-streaming herself in the early hours of the morning speaking candidly about the events, Ms Martin took to social media once more to defend her actions. She denied the allegations and claimed her accusers were seeking electoral benefit in the upcoming NUS elections.
She wrote: “This weekend has been one of the hardest of my life. Seeing those closest to me use personal defamation to get one up in the countdown to National Conference was destroying me from the inside out.
“When I was elected, I promised to be the President that listens, learns and leads. I still intend to be that kind of President. But I know these principles are not enough and I have a duty and a responsibility to the membership to create a vision and shape a political environment that is free of petty tit for tat or personal attacks for political gain.”
However, other high-profile NUS figures have since made similar accusations. NUS Trans Liberation Officer, Jess Bradley said: “This string of complaints about Shakira’s bullying behaviour towards fellow officers and people in the movement has drawn this crisis in NUS into sharp focus for me.
“I can honestly say that becoming an NUS Officer often results in a sharp decline in mental health, and this hostility from the President is only making things worse.”
Durham’s newly elected NUS delegate, Helen Paton, told Palatinate: “The world of student politics can be very toxic and this is just proof of it.
“The allegations are a consequence of several tweets and messages that threaten other student leaders within the NUS.
“The NUS is once again in a leadership crisis,” says Helen Paton, a Durham delegate
“The expressions and approach of Shakira in social media are unacceptable. Comparing domestic abuse in response to a formal criticism tweet shows how off topic the NUS leadership can get.
“The NUS is once again in a leadership crisis, first it was antisemitism (still an issue) and now bullying between officers.
“I’m a strong, outspoken, and articulate black woman,” Ms Martin says:“I’m not going to change myself”
“How do we expect to be represented like this? How is the government ever going to take the NUS seriously?”
In an interview with The Guardian, Ms Martin said: “For the past few weeks I’ve been a victim of racism and classism.
“I don’t have a degree. I’m a single parent. I’m aware of how I sound. To people that know me – yeah, that’s Shakira. To people that don’t know me, it’s creating that picture and it’s a false picture.
“I’m a strong, outspoken, articulate black woman that likes piercings and tattoos and I’ve got swagger. I’m not going to change myself.”
Ms Martin defeated last year’s incumbent NUS president, Malia Bouattia, in April 2017 with 56% of the vote, assuming office in July. In her acceptance speech, she said she would “spend her time listening, learning and leading.”
She was previously Vice-President for Education and promised to unify the organisation after bitter divisions had dogged the presidency of her predecessor.
The investigation into Ms Martin’s conduct was ongoing at the time this article went to print.
Photograph: willowbarbican via Wikimedia Commons