Students’ Union condemns Durham Union Society

Durham SU Assembly has passed a motion “to condemn the actions of the Durham Union Society”, with 93% voting in favour.

The Assembly Notes accuse the DUS of failing “to prevent and effectively penalise incidents of racism/misogyny amongst both its membership and leadership”.

The motion of the text alleges that “the failures to combat discrimination by the DUS are due to the institution actively choosing to protect senior members who hold discriminatory views over the welfare of its own membership”.

The motion also argues that “the DUS is capable of causing significant harm to students from marginalised backgrounds due to its lack of safeguarding systems including an effective complaints process, code of conduct for its senior leadership and refusal to acknowledge or penalise the discriminatory actions of its members.”

The SU Assembly resolved, in response, to “ban the DUS from participating in our events and to strongly encourage Sabbatical Officers not to participate in DUS events.”

The resolution stated that DUS events will not be advertised or promoted, and DUS events will not be hosted in Dunelm House.

We will take decisive action to deal with any such accusations

Yash Raju, former Equalities Officer at the DUS, brought the motion to the SU Assembly. They told Palatinate: “I am absolutely delighted that the SU have decided with an overwhelming majority to stand with the victims of years and years of abuse.”

The motion follows allegations of bullying and bigotry uncovered by a Palatinate investigation in July 2020. In this, the former Steward of the DUS described the society as a “safe haven for racists, demagogues, and colonial apologists”.

During the Assembly meeting, DUS President spoke against the motion. He said: “it’s not for me to deny that there’s evidence that different individuals have expressed offensive or hateful views within our Society, but I can categorically state that the vast majority of our executive are against racism, homophobia and other sorts of bigotry. I certainly am, and have been actively against that as has my successor for next term.

“What we would like to do is to just have some great debates and addresses, and invite speakers to Durham for that. And this term we’ve done that – we’ve had great numbers of people of colour and women coming to talk to our society […] I think that it’s a positive thing, and I think we can do more to iron things out.”

The President of Durham People of Colour Association, Dan Takyi, questioned the comment that the “vast majority” were not racist. In response, Mr Pahl replied that: “I think racism is a problem endemic in our society and that racists are in every institution and the Durham Union is unfortunately no exception to that.”

“If they express anything and I’m chairing the meeting, the procedure is that they are removed from the meeting […] and if they do so in other avenues, the procedure is there and they can be removed from office, and that has happened in the past”

In a statement, the DUS told Palatinate: “we are very disappointed and strongly disagree with the motion that the SU has passed. Racism and misogyny have no place whatsoever in the Union or in Durham University and we will take decisive action to deal with any such accusations made.”

“Contrary to what the SU motion states, the Union does have a comprehensive Code of Conduct for officers of the society as well as a Complaints Procedure to hold people to account. Both of these were also overhauled towards the beginning of this term.”

“It is firmly in the interests of Durham students for the SU and the Union to work together, and so we regard this motion as completely counterproductive. Our President was allowed to attend the SU meeting to defend the Union from these allegations but was only permitted 2 minutes to speak.”

“In light of the motion passing, we have written to the SU to ask what actions they think the Union should take to deal with the very serious allegations that they have made, so that the motion can be lifted as soon as possible.”

One assembly attendee alleged that “a couple of weeks ago, an individual who was running for President of the Union attempted to have a manifesto pledge to acknowledge and apologise for bigotry and discrimination, and the Union’s leadership barred that individual from including the words ‘bigotry’ and ‘discrimination’ in his manifesto.” 

The Union President was not allowed to respond to this comment in the Assembly. Palatinate contacted the DUS for comment about this allegation, but none was given.

Image: Wikimedia Creative Commons 

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