A group of students are speaking out after being censored by their Students’ Union during an arts event.
Simon Jay, director of The Vagina Monologues and member of a society fighting against sexism, has started a petition calling for more transparency and accountability over decisions made by the executive committee of the Students’ Union.
The actor believes that the decision to censor the poster promoting the V Day event is a direct backlash from an earlier campaign, which led to a poster featuring underwear clad models being changed.
Mr Jay feels that the decision was made unfairly as he saw no research from the SU into why the rotated lips were used.
“This kind of image is used worldwide specifically for the V Day event which protects women against sexism and violence.” He said,
“The Students’ Union made a snap decision without even asking why this image had been used or why it is important.”
The image in question is used in many countries to bring awareness to the taboo attitude that many people still have to women’s expression of sexuality.
Producer and President of BUst, (Bournemouth University Students against sexism) Chloe Cook was shocked by the decision to censor the image.
She explained, “The idea of hiding the image completely counteracts the message we are trying to make by performing The Vagina Monologues.”
Ms Cook has been trying to fight sexism within the SU and started a campaign on behalf of Bust to change event posters which displayed party goers in their underwear. The posters were advertising the Sex Ed Ball, an event which encouraged students to dress up in burlesque themed attire in aid of promoting sexual health.
After a meeting with the Students’ Union it was decided that the posters displaying half-naked people would be changed to people in fancy dress, which Bust were more than happy about
The journalism student then wrote an opinion column on the Universities online website BUZZ stating, “I think the organisers should have focused more on the message of safe sex instead of trying to be risqué.”
Ms Cook then came to loggerheads once more with the SU when she was asked by President, Toby Horner, to attend a meeting with him.
“He said that the meeting was to discuss my poster but once I got there he spent most of the time asking about the meaning of my article.
I feel that I was called there under false pretences and that shows that Toby knew what he was doing was unfair. If a journalist wrote an article about the Government which David Cameron didn’t like they wouldn’t be called in and slammed for it. It completely disregards freedom of speech.”
Mr Horner agreed that the action taken to censor The Vagina Monologues poster may have seemed, petty and unfair, “I understand that it appears to be a case of you complained about us, we’ll complain about you.”
However, the highest full-time member of SUBU wanted to make it clear that there was a genuine complaint from a member of staff about the poster and for the Student’s Union to act fairly they must take every complaint seriously.
Both Simon and Chloe felt that the decision was made unfairly as they were not given a chance to defend the image and explain why it was being used.
Ms Cook argued, “When BUst were invited to discuss the Sex Ed ball poster the organiser of the event was present. We were not given the same chance to defend our poster. Toby explained that as the organiser of the event is also on the executive committee she was able to take part in the debate.
Regardless of her position on the committee we feel she was able to speak as RAG president against changing the poster. From then on a precedent was set that should have been followed through in our case and should be in every case from now on. It’s completely undemocratic.”
This issue follows several other complaints that the Students’ Union does not support art and performance events with the same amount of attention that the social and clubbing events get.
When starting the petition Simon said, “The SU has absolutely no understanding of the arts and culture and people have suggested to me that they have become slightly dodgy. There’s no way of knowing what goes on behind closed doors and we need more transparency.”
Mr Horner denied any possibility that the Students’ Union had acted undemocratically but agreed that there is definitely more that SUBU can do to make other students aware of how decisions are made. He added that due to a member of the committee stepping down they were taking longer than normal to publish the agenda and minutes from each meeting.
As well as making the Students’ Union more accountable for any actions they make there has also been call to add an extra person to the executive committee, specifically somebody who has a vested interest in arts and performance. This is something which Mr Horner says SUBU is looking into.
“We may start a Students’ Council which will bring the Presidents of every society together to discuss any issues they may have.”
Ms Cook thinks that this suggestion is a good idea as long as they are given the freedom to criticise the Students’ Union and other clubs and societies, something which has gotten people into trouble in the past.
SUBU say that they welcome any criticism from students as it can only help them to get better and that they will soon be reviewing the executive committee to see if there are any changes they can make.
Simon Jay says that this petition is very important as he feels that SUBU often act unfairly and treat people undemocratically, “They favour the big clubs with the majority and don’t help the smaller societies at all, a lot of the performance societies feel the same.”
SUBU argue that they treat all students as equals but that they need the big societies that draw in all the money to fund the smaller ones that don’t raise as much themselves. Mr Horner said:
“SUBU is a non-profit organisation so any money that is made in the club, shop or by the societies goes straight back into funding other student societies.”
He argues that it is important to support the big events as they make money which funds the smaller societies. Mr Horner also said that he started a new initiative this year to showcase everything that the societies do as it is important to show the other students what the clubs do.
“BUst were invited to display self-defence and the performing arts society BUParts sang some numbers from their latest show.”
Mr Jay will be continuing with his petition until it is absolutely clear what goes on when SUBU make decisions. He will also be contacting the National Union of Students for guidance with his campaign.
BUst are still performing their production of The Vagina Monologues and will end the performance with a talk from author and feminist Kat Banyard. All members of SUBU have been invited to this performance and Ms Cook hopes that they come to see what they have been working towards.