Donning white t-shirts scribbled over with anti-racist and anti-fascist sloganeering, a collection of lecturers and students today took to the centre of campus in protest of what they saw as a failure of the University and the Student’s Union over the Snowsports social incident.
The Snowsports society has been embroiled in national controversy after photos surfaced that showed members of the society wearing white t-shirts bearing offensive material. The Student’s Union has placed the society under probation for two years, forcing them to submit to risk-assessments of future social events, and demanding a public apology.
Protestors insisted that the Student Union did not go far enough, and that it was a slippery slope:
“People say it is what it is, they are just a few privileged boys. But that’s not what this is. Hateful ideas and prejudice are allowed to grow and become normalised if we don’t take a stand. The fact we are here today is a great sign. We can never be complacent about hate and racism. We need our campus back. And we are taking it back by force.”
Present at the rally was Chloe Long, the former Student Union part-time officer who was suspended from her role after she leaked confidential details of the ongoing investigation. She received enthusiastic support from the crowd for her speech:
“They have said they will deal with this. What have they dealt with? We have not got justice for this. Those that have been affected – we do not feel that these sanctions are good enough. These sanctions tell people that this behaviour is normal. And this is not good enough.”
The Student’s Union has denied that it has mishandled the investigation into the social:
“It should be noted that the suspension of the officer concerned does not constitute a form of sanction. No Code of Conduct panel has yet been appointed and no conclusions have been reached on sanctions.”
“The union is satisfied that all aspects of the investigation process have been handled in accordance with its policies and procedures and have ensured that those involved have been given the opportunity to receive a fair hearing.”
Several speakers referenced the Traditionalist Society, bracketing the group with the Snowsports incident as evidence of a growing right-wing presence at Lancaster University. One speaker invoked the death of Anuj Bidve, a Lancaster University student from India who was fatally shot in Salford in 2011, as an example of “where this hate speech leads”.
As the protest dwindled, and the loudhailer speeches were substituted in favour of the Black Eyed Peas’ Where Is The Love, one of the speakers, Julie Hearn, told SCAN that the response of university authorities had been inadequate.
“We’d like to see expulsions. That’s for the investigation to decide, we don’t want to put words in their mouth. But we just want a proper investigation.”
Carol, an MA student at the protest, concurred:
“As a student I don’t feel comfortable knowing that I could go into a café or a bar and know that I could be sat next to these people to be honest, I don’t believe there’s room for that attitude on a university campus. I’ve run pubs for 30 years and if somebody came in my bar wearing a t-shirt with those comments on they would be asked to leave immediately.”
There was a prominent display of support for left-wing protest movement Stand Up to Racism at the rally, with activists signing up members to the organisation and distributing Stand Up to Racism stickers, and copies of the Socialist Worker.
Stand Up to Racism is deeply controversial on the British left due to their involvement with the Socialist Worker’s Party (SWP), with prominent commentators such as Owen Jones branding Stand Up to Racism “a front” for the latter movement.
The SWP has been deeply controversial since 2013, when allegations of a rape-cover up by the party leadership precipitated a collapse in their membership numbers. The incident, involving alleged sexual assault by “Comrade Delta”, a member of the SWP’s governing executive, saw the party criticised for looking at the case in an internal court comprised of other members of the executive rather than referring the matter to the police. The Socialist Workers Party has consistently denied the allegations and state that they “oppose all manifestations of sexism”.
Wearing a white t-shirt reading “Rape is no joke”, Hearn offered a defence of the role played by Stand Up to Racism in the rally, due to the connections the movement has to Labour, the UK’s mainstream opposition party.
“Go on to Stand Up to Racism’s webpage, and you’ll see that the chair of it is Diane Abbot, who’s in the shadow cabinet. Look at the composition; the SWP is active in it, and organises, but it is not an SWP organisation, it’s predominantly Labour party.”
With threats by the protestors to return to the square, this could prove to be a running controversy for the University and the Student’s Union.
Update: SCAN approached the University for comment on the protest, but the University declined.
Correction: An earlier version of this article claimed that Julie Hearn was President of the Lancaster University and College Union. This was incorrect, the current serving President being Dr Johnny Unger. Julie Hearn would like it to be made clear that she was speaking in a personal capacity. SCAN is happy to publish corrections and any queries for online articles should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org