Six members of Durham Union Society’s 60-member General Committee (GC) have resigned in protest at the state of affairs within the Society.
The resignations follow the publication last month of Palatinate’s investigation into the Durham Union Society’s culture, which included allegations of bigotry, bullying and malpractice within the Union. The article can be read here.
One former member of the GC, who wished to remain anonymous, cited “blatant racism and bigotry” as their reason for resigning. Other resignation letters seen by Palatinate echoed these concerns.
Another decried, in addition, a “woeful decline in the legitimacy of Union democracy”.
Soon after the aforementioned Palatinate article, a Facebook page entitled “Boycott the Durham Union” was created. It currently has over 200 likes.
The Boycott the Durham Union “movement”, describes the Union Society as “fundamentally harmful” and “rampant with institutional corruption which structurally protects abusive, bigoted behaviour”.
The campaign has today released a statement reiterating their agenda and demands, which has been signed by 22 societies and associations, 12 student reps, and five members of the Boycott’s Organising Committee.
When contacted by Palatinate, the Durham Union Society did not provide comment.
The Union Society is the largest and oldest student society at Durham, and holds regular debates and addresses. Last year, the society held over 40 addresses, 30 socials, and 25 debates and panels. It is also responsible for managing the bar at 24 North Bailey.
The General Committee is a collection of all those with elected positions in the Union Society, which usually has between 50 and 60 members. Each member of GC also sits on one of six other committees which meet on a biweekly schedule.
According to the Union Society’s constitution, the GC “shall act on behalf of the membership to ensure that the Union be organised and managed in the best interests of its membership,” including overseeing the Union’s finances and electing officers.
Perhaps the major function of the GC is accountability. The constitution obliges officers, including the president, secretary, returning officer and treasurer, to submit regular reports to the GC for scrutiny.
The Union Society is an independent organisation, with its own trustees. It is not run by Durham University or even, as with many student societies, run in conjunction with Durham Students’ Union (Durham SU).
Palatinate’s investigation into the issue included allegations that some members treated the Union Society as a ‘zero-sum political game’, afflicted by systematic failings, cronyism, and negligence in holding wrongdoers to account.
In addition, some alleged that the emphasis on free speech in the Union Society allows a culture of hostility and racism.
Samrat Pasriccha, a former Steward of the DUS, said: “The Union Society has become a safe haven for racists, demagogues, and colonial apologists.
“I have witnessed outrageous amounts of outright racism and xenophobia extended to international students within the Union Society. To quote just some of the statements I’ve heard – ‘The sun will rise on the British Empire again’ and ‘Multilingual debating, ha, like we need more foreigners in this place’. It is a form of bullying made under the guise of free speech.
“I joined the Union Society for its debates, but the structural protection it offered to xenophobes has made it difficult for people like me to interact with the society like any white member could.”
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