OUSU apologises as competition escalates between anti-racism Tumblrs

OUSU apologises as competition escalates between anti-racism Tumblrs

OUSU was dragged into a debate between opposing anti-racism Tumblr accounts last night after it apologised for publicising one campaign over the other.

It had shared the “We are all Oxford” campaign – which aims to highlight the positive experiences of ethnic minority students – without having first shared “I, too, am Oxford”, which aims to highlight racism.

“We are all Oxford” (WAAO) has been accused by Oxford Students of “diluting” the message of the original “I, too, am Oxford” project.

On Friday, OUSU posted a link on its Facebook page to the WAAO tumblr, describing it as “some great stuff”.

Yesterday, this was followed up with: “In case you were wondering what our previous post was about here is some more great work by Oxford students from “I, too, am Oxford” to put it into context [before linking to the ITAO tumblr]”

Charlotte Hendy, VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, told The Oxford Student that “neither campaign was an OUSU project.”

Tom Rutland, OUSU president, tweeted last night that WAAO was “Definitely not OUSU organised, but appreciate the post sharing may give the impression it is.”

OUSU has since stated on its Facebook page that it “would like to make clear that it supports the ‘I, too, am Oxford’ campaign and would like to apologise for posting a link to the recent ‘We are all Oxford’ campaign without first highlighting the former campaign.”

“This was a mistake made by one of our officers that the individual has apologised for.”

The original “I, too, am Oxford” Tumblr states that participants in the project “are demanding that a discussion on race be taken seriously and that real institutional change occur.”

Students on “I, too, am Oxford” express their individual experiences of racism in Oxford. One, for example, said: “You’re from London! You must be from BRIXTON? (x2 in a week)”

Others used the photo-shoot to communicate the problems of institutional racism, with statements such as: “If you “don’t see race”, how come we don’t see that in the admissions statistics?”

However, fears that “I, too, am Oxford” could deter potential BME students from applying led Alexandra Jaye Wilson, a first-year PPEist at Univ, to set up the WAAO page.

This alternative Tumblr account states its “aim is to present the full picture. We have heard from those who have suffered negative experiences here, which we all agree need to be voiced and challenged. We want to show people that many ethnic minorities have an overall positive experience here at the University of Oxford.”

Some students used this new Tumblr to qualify their earlier involvement in “I, too, am Oxford”, with comments such as: “My statement was not meant to represent my entire experience, by highlight some issues. My overall experience is very positive.”

Other students express their own positive experiences of Oxford, such as, “I’m Asian, and I have not felt that it has been a problem here.”

However, many of the statements expressed on “We are all Oxford” relate more generally to the institution’s attempts at access and outreach, such as one student’s assertion that the University spends “£5.6 million on outreach each year.”

In 2013, the success rate for UK candidates applying to Oxford was 17.6%, but for non-EU applicants the figure fell to 10.1%.

Vinay Anicatt, a third-year E&M student at Wadham, commented that, “the [WAAO] campaign has mainly white people saying they haven’t noticed prejudice/racism – I wonder why? Whatever they intended, they’re (at best) discounting and (at worst) overwriting the original experiences posted.”

Wilson told The Oxford Student why she chose to set up WAAO. “The ITAO project raised some outrageous and unacceptable comments that students from an ethnic minority background have faced while being here. However, the campaign presented an unrepresentative experience for ethnic minorities studying here.”

“Our main concern is that the ITAO campaign will deter prospective ethnic minority students from applying to Oxford. Such a campaign gives the impression that ethnic minorities are excluded at the University of Oxford.”

“We all agree that one of the best ways to combat racial prejudices is by increasing access for all people to this institution. However, we think that a campaign [such as ITOA] that discourages applicants has the potential to undermine access work,” she added.

The original “I, too, am Oxford” campaign was based on the “I, too, am Harvard” campaign which proved widely popular in the United States.

The Oxford version has been featured this week in national publications such as The Guardian and The Independent.

Commenting on WAAO’s claim to be aiding access work, Anicatt added: “I think it comes off as pretty disingenuous – ‘no no, we promise there aren’t any problems – come here and enjoy the occasional alumni sponsored financial support package, that’ll make it all better’.”

Chiara Giovanni, BME/women of colour rep of feminist organisation WomCam, praised “I, too, am Oxford”, saying: “I am heavily involved in Access work and one of my priorities has always been portraying a balanced picture of the university. There are enough people either entirely against Oxbridge or entirely in love with it; for this reason it’s essential to present potential applicants with the truth.”

“Access is about encouraging applications from those students who would not normally apply, and these students often have legitimate concerns about equality within an institution like Oxford.”

“Engaging with them as nothing more than a glorified propaganda machine is useless; it’s far better to take their concerns seriously while letting them know that current students are working to improve things. This is why the [“I, too, am Oxford”] project is crucial; we are starting a dialogue that has been ignored and pushing issues that need to be resolved,” she added.


University increases funding for OUSU

University increases funding for OUSU

A 66 per cent increase in funding has been allocated to OUSU by the University, prompting celebration from sabbatical officers.

£200,000 will be awarded immediately for the financial year 2014 –15. It will also receive a further £15,000 for the financial year 2015-16, and a final £50,000 for the year after.

President Tom Rutland said that he is “delighted to have successfully negotiated a massive increase in OUSU’s funding”.

“When I ran for OUSU President, I spoke about how years of underfunding for OUSU prevented it from being the Student Union that Oxford students deserved.”

He added: “This much needed funding uplift will propel OUSU on its journey from being a surviving student union to a thriving one.”

However, some student voices have been heard to speculate as to the timing of the inflated budget. Tom Ough, a third-year English student at St. John’s, commented: “I’m putting this down to Trup-gate. It’s quite clear that the university doesn’t want a repeat of an election which was a national laughing-stock, and this is a way of ensuring that students have more respect for OUSU, which has been chronically underfunded even in comparison to other collegiate universities’ student unions.

“But the funding increase is a credit to the negotiation skills of Tom Rutland and co., because the Trup debacle could easily have led the University to reduce its support for OUSU rather than give it a much-needed shot in the arm,” he added.

Some of this money will be used to hire a new Student Advice Service manager, who will allow the union to support more students who feel they have been mistreated or discriminated against.

OUSU will also be funding increased student representation across departments. Rachel Pickering, Vice President for Access and Academic Affairs, claimed that “student representatives are often less visible [than their college-based counterparts], and can lack the support they need to fulfill their representational roles”.

“The increase in funding will allow us to hire a full time Academic Representation Officer, whose job will be to coordinate and support divisional and departmental reps, and train them within their roles,” she said.

Alasdair Lennon, St John’s JCR President, commented: “The OUSU funding increase should be welcome news for everyone. However, due to Oxford’s nature as a federal university people will ask why isn’t this funding going to common rooms? The simple answer is that OUSU does things that common rooms cannot. OUSU’s centralised service offers: a free impartial and confidential advice service, assistance with troublesome landlords, coordination and execution of major campaigns, the support that student societies need, and the opinions of the entire student body. I also know that OUSU offer fantastic support and training to MCR and JCR presidents without which we would struggle in our roles. OUSU have an image problem not a relevancy problem, the increased funding is necessary and required.”

One Lincolnite, who did not wish to be named, hailed the new funds as an exciting prospect: “This is great news for students, and hopefully means that OUSU can do more for Oxford students. It is important that the University has increased its pitifully small block grant to demonstrate its commitment to the interests of students. Now, we need to make sure that OUSU spends this money wisely to meaningfully support the student body.”

The increased grant will also be used to improve communications with the student body by hiring a new Digital Communications Officer in Trinity Term and integrating Single Sign-On into its website.

Over the past few years OUSU has secured students the ability to re-sit Prelims and access the Rad Cam on a Sunday, as well as running the Living Wage Campaign across colleges. This year it also ensured that students who suspend their studies have the right to access University facilities.

Rutland suggested that in the past OUSU “has not been properly able to communicate these wins, as well as the services it offers to students like the Student Advice Service”.

The rest of the grant will go towards developing a digital Alternative Prospectus and permanently funding the OUSU Community Wardens Scheme.  It also plans to investigate whether they could provide increased support for student non-sport clubs and societies.

Pickering reiterated her hopes that the increased funding will enable students to be “more aware of what OUSU does and how they can get involved.”

OUSU needs involvement, not insults

OUSU needs involvement, not insults

As someone involved in the workings of OUSU, I am starting to get slightly tired of the latest trend in the student press, which involves reeling off ranting comment pieces, slamming OUSU, OUSU Council, OUSU members, OUSU’s campaigns – or in fact, anything else within reach. A recent example of this came in Alexander Rankine’s rant in the Cherwell last week, addressing what he believed to be ‘the failure of OUSU Council to provide a meaningful democratic connection between students and OUSU.’ As current Chair of Council, and former Chair of the Scrutiny Committee, I am well placed to address some of the points raised and can hopefully provide a more nuanced take on OUSU Council.

Firstly, I would like to make the distinction between OUSU – the organisation made up of full-time and part-time officers, office staff, campaigns and committees – and OUSU Council, the democratic arm of the organisation. Council exists to provide devolved democracy, where common rooms have elected representatives to speak on their behalf. They should be consulting the students they represent, but in reality, this doesn’t often happen. Sitting at the front of the room as Chair, I am often dismayed at the attendance, or lack thereof, particularly amongst those who aren’t OUSU reps (especially the ‘3rd vote’ that all colleges have). OUSU Sabbatical Officers do their best to make agendas available, highlight important issues and encourage people to bring motions to Council, but they cannot physically force people to do so. In his piece, Alexander laments at the lack of motions being brought to Council – but these are open to all students to bring forward and in recent meetings, most of the motions have not been brought by Sabbaticals Officers, but by students with an interest in a particular issue. On his criticism that OUSU Council only meets every two weeks, I don’t think that it is realistic to expect students to turn up every week, during terms that only last eight weeks as it is. Perhaps he doesn’t have a lot of work to do, but I certainly do. It is also worth noting that is usually how often JCR meetings take place.

Regarding accountability of the officers, it is not their fault if nobody asks them any questions in Council. Every time we get to that part of Council, I deliberately pause, look round the room and remind people that this is their opportunity to directly scrutinise those who represent them. And I am usually met with silence for my efforts. I also take issue with the derisive remark that ‘the Scrutiny reports read like interviews with the officers.’ Well, they are based partially on interviews with the officers (how else would we conduct the process?), so of course they are going to sound a bit like the interviews that provided their source material! What is important is that whatever ends up in that report does so after careful consideration, feedback from other people working with the officers being scrutinized and a weighing-up of the ‘evidence’, as it were. The Scrutiny Committee’s job is to check that elected OUSU officers are fulfilling the political aspects of their role i.e. carrying out their election manifesto promises, representing students in a proactive and positive manner and interacting well with them. If the Scrutiny Report is broadly positive, then this is because the officers are doing a good job! In the past, I have never held back when I felt someone was not fulfilling their role, and concerns that have been raised in past reports are now actively being taken on board. A good example of this is Part-Time Executive written reports to Council, whose appearance has increased thanks to successive Scrutiny recommendations. When I stood up to present the report to Council last term, I did not mince my words about some of the more unacceptable findings we had, and would reject the idea that we are not holding officers to account.

Finally, I would like to deal with the issue surrounding the ‘atmosphere at Council’, which has become more prominent since OUSU stalwart Jack Matthews’ blog post about his time in student politics. I notice that his quote taken from a Council meeting in 2008 seems to keep being used as though this were the current state of affairs. Yes, it is true that OUSU has a tendency towards left-wing thinking and policy, but this is only a reflection on the fact that most of its members, being students, do tend statistically to veer towards the left. As someone with few party political convictions myself, I have never felt threatened or intimidated by the party politics from either side at OUSU – in fact, they rarely come up or enter the debate, as it’s often more about a clash of beliefs, political or otherwise. I have actually found that it has produced lively debates on all sides, a recent example being of the debate surrounding financing the Oxford Left Review (a motion which fell). As Chair, it is my duty to maintain the atmosphere in Council so that everyone feels able to speak. When I have felt debates have become intimidating or contributions irrelevant, I have said so, as have many of my predecessors (including Jack Matthews).

OUSU, like any democratic institution, has its failings, but this does not lie solely with its Officers. JCR and MCR reps need to step up to the plate, actually attend Council, ask their Common Rooms what they think and make points in the debate. If OUSU appears like a club or a clique, it’s because there are some people who are more passionate about certain issues than others, but the idea is that anyone can contribute to any debate in any way they chose, provided their remarks are not offensive. Sabbatical Officers cannot win – they are criticised for not engaging enough with students or letting them know what they’ve been doing, but are then lambasted for sending ‘self-congratulatory emails’ when they do tell you what they’ve been up to! Every student member is entitled to attend OUSU Council, so here is my invitation to you: come along, propose motions, take part in the debates, ask questions of your elected officers, rather than reeling off comments in the student press.

PHOTO/Nele van Hout

Tom Rutland in presidential punch up

Tom Rutland in presidential punch up

OUSU President Tom Rutland was the victim of an assault last Friday while walking home from a club with a friend. A stranger approached the pair and threatened to rape Rutland’s friend. Rutland defended his friend and in response was punched.

Rutland said: “On the way home from Supermarket, in the early hours of Friday morning, I was the victim of an unprovoked assault by a male by Santander on George Street. [...] I’m fine now, apart from a bit of a sore head and a pair of trousers with an unintended and not particularly trendy hole in them.”

The OUSU President added: “Anyone who witnessed the assault or who has any information relating to the case should call the non-emergency police number 101, or contact PC5537 Ian Lucas to report it. Students should report crimes to the police – whether they are a victim or a witness. If they need support or advice on any issue then they should contact OUSU’s Student Advice Service”

He also tweeted about the incident, telling followers: “Yeah it’s all okay home safe but really crap” and describing the event as “disgusting”.

The event prompted concern and praise from Rutalnd’s friends. David Townsend, a Law D.Phil and former OUSU President, described Rutland as “pretty He-Man” and commended him for “good work”. A first year historian at Magdalen merely commented “legend!”.

PC Lucas can be contacted at ian.lucas@thamesvalley.pnn.police.uk. The OUSU Student Advice Service can be contacted at advice@ousu.org.

OUSU rejects Oxford Left Review partnership

OUSU rejects Oxford Left Review partnership

An OUSU motion to provide funding for the Oxford Left Review journal has been defeated this week.

The motion, discussed at the OUSU Council meeting last Wednesday, proposed a contribution of £150 from the discretionary budget towards printing costs and hosting speaker events.

It is believed the vote was close, with numerous delegates choosing to abstain. Undergraduate Olivia Arigho Stiles, associate editor of the journal and proposer of the motion, expressed her disappointment with the decision: “The OLR offers a platform for high quality articles and artwork from Oxford students and is a highly dynamic and thought-provoking element of Oxford’s diverse journalistic milieu.”

She added that she was, “sure this decision will come as a surprise to the sizeable team of Oxford students who are involved with the journal, and the large numbers of students and the public who attend our termly speaker events”

OUSU currently funds several student journals, having contributed £200 to the ‘Environment & Ethics’ magazine in Michaelmas as part of its funding for the Environment & Ethics campaign. Arigho Stiles blamed the failure of the motion to add the Oxford Left Review to this group on the obstruction of right-wing delegates.

“Unfortunately, individuals with a conservative agenda managed to dominate the debate and prevent the motion from passing. I cannot help but feel this provides yet more evidence of OUSU’s disconnect from the majority of Oxford students, and its refusal to engage with the political views and actions of the student populace.”

James Blythe, OUSU’s VP (Access and Academic Affairs)-elect, denied assertions that the decision was a result of “Tories versus lefties in OUSU Council”. Explaining his decision to oppose the motion despite being a “fully paid-up member of the Labour party and Oxford University Labour Club”, he stated:

“The student union exists to serve all students, and all its activities should be, at least theoretically, open to everyone who is interested.  Olivia and the OLR explicitly stated that they would not welcome right-wing comments in the review and therefore I felt it would be inappropriate for OUSU to fund it,” he said.

“I felt it was an important statement about the position of OUSU: we can be political – in fact we have an obligation to be political sometimes – but we should never exclude a group of students from anything funded or run by their student union simply on the basis of their political beliefs.”

The OLR currently relies upon JCR donations, sales revenues and contributions from its own writing team. Arigho Stiles insisted that the journal will continue to operate fully despite the setback. “This will not prevent the OLR from continuing to publish high-quality material from the plural left this term, and to do so we will simply have to seek forms of funding from elsewhere…As a resourceful team with a broad readership, sourcing alternative funding should be feasible but with escalating printing costs, it is an ever-difficult task.”

The OLR is produced termly, and features writing and artwork from students

OUSU puts its money where its mouth is

OUSU puts its money where its mouth is

Online access scheme #OxTweet is set to receive funding after OUSU Council approved plans to raise its profile.

The scheme, which has recently expanded to cover more subjects, is made up of Oxford students who tweet about their social and academic lives, as well as answering questions from prospective applicants. It comprises multiple accounts, which together have over 4,500 followers.

Rachel Pickering, OUSU VP for Access and Academic Affairs, seconded the motion, which she described as a way of publicising the scheme further. It was proposed by Magdalen JCR Access and Admissions Rep Rosie Dickinson.

“We’re thrilled that OUSU Council approved our motion for funding, and that this project is reaching increasing numbers of prospective applicants. We’d like to thank everyone at OUSU,” Dickinson said.

The publicity will take the form of postcard-sized flyers, which will be distributed via Target Schools, student shadowing events and at open days.

The #OxTweet team is currently running a competition for the postcard’s design. One entrant wrote: “As someone who didn’t know very much about Oxford before applying this year, #OxTweet has been a great way for me to learn about my course and student life in general.”

#OxTweet founder Jamie Miles, also of Magdalen, commented: “Being able to take #OxTweet to schools all over the country in postcard form will hopefully solidify the value of the project. As it stands, it is sort of a digital phenomenon. This campaign aims to change that.”

“No one from my comprehensive school had attended Oxford before. Upon becoming a student, the only solution to this was to initiate filling that information gap myself. So I did,” he said.

“A special thanks goes out to all the OxTweeters for their enthusiasm, OUSU for their support, the Magdalen JCR Access Rep, Rosie Dickinson, for her precision, and the coordinators of #OxTweet 2014, Eden Bailey and Chiara Giovanni, for their undying commitment to the project.”

Jamie Miles’s Youtube Access channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/JamoeMills.

OUSU champions rights for rusticated students

OUSU champions rights for rusticated students

Suspended students will finally gain guaranteed access to University facilities and services after a breakthrough agreement negotiated by OUSU.

The new guidelines, proposed by OUSU and formulated jointly with the University, were passed at the University’s Education Committee last Friday.

Students at some colleges currently face retraction of their University Cards and restricted access to the University Counselling and Disability Advisory Service upon rustication. The changes will mean that access to these facilities can only be denied in exceptional circumstances.

These will include non-payment of fees, serious breaches of conduct relating to the use of University facilities, and cases in which student health and safety may be at risk.

OUSU and the University are now working to implement the changes as quickly as possible, and hope they will be in place by the beginning of the next academic year.

The agreement has been hailed by OUSU as “a great victory for Oxford students”.

Charlotte Hendy, Vice-President for Welfare and Equal Opportunities, said: “Year after year, OUSU’s Student Advice Service supports students who have taken a year out on medical grounds and are expected to sit penal collections on return. These students often have no access to libraries and struggle to achieve the often expected 2:1.

“Under the new guidelines, students facing similar situations will be able to access the University libraries necessary to allow them to prepare for penal collections.”

One anonymous student, who suspended to recover from anorexia, said: “I’m delighted that the University has decided to reverse its policy… If you’re unwell, the whole point of suspending is to take some time to recover so that you can work and enjoy what Oxford has to offer when you return, and it’s bizarre that so many suspended students have been expected to do this without access to counselling or libraries.”

Many would agree that these changes seem intuitive and overdue. Rachel Pickering, Vice-President for Access and Academic Affairs, claimed that practical obstacles rather than resistance had prevented them from being enacted sooner.

“The University has a complex committee structure: the proposal had to go through working groups and then the Senior Tutors’ Committee before it could be brought before the Education Committee”, said Pickering.

“It would be wrong to view this as a matter of ‘us’ and ‘them’: we have lots of friends in the University who really care about students’ welfare, and this victory is the result of a partnership.”

OUSU are now hoping to extend the increased support for suspended students to college level.

The provisions offered to suspended students vary between colleges, with arrangements often the preserve of senior members of staff.

Speaking to the OxStu, another anonymous suspended student said:“Before I decided that I should suspend I gained undertakings from the college that I would still keep my bod card, have access to libraries, and be allowed to come back into college now and again to study and to see friends.”

“Reaching the point where suspension had been decided was however, quite frankly, a hellish experience. The whole process was veiled in college by-laws, many of which were subsequently revealed to have been broken, and made worse by the sometimes obstructive attitude of certain academics in senior positions.

“That is the problem when there is an exclusive jurisdiction invested in one individual: when they mess up, getting past that is unnecessarily difficult. This is particularly true when you are making a decision that has massive implications and are already under medically-related stresses. The transparent application of a proper process would have ironed out many of these difficulties.”

Pickering said that although colleges would still have autonomy, OUSU will work to ensure processes are transparent, and can empower students to start conversations about access to facilities in their college: “The flexibility of colleges can sometimes be of more support to students and their individual cases than hard-and-fast rules. However, we will be meeting with Heads of Houses and Senior Tutors to advocate on behalf of suspended students and get change happening where it needs to. We’ll be supporting student reps to do the same – with regard to colleges, localized conversations are the way forward.”

“We want to ensure transparency to the decisions students considering suspension are facing, and inform and support them in the considerations that must be taken into account.”

Students considering suspension whilst living out, for example, must consider how the decision may affect their rent. Previously, suspended students who have continued living in rented accommodation have become eligible to pay Council Tax.

A spokesperson for Oxford City Council claimed that full exemptions for medical suspensions should be in place by April this year. Until then, suspended students living with current students are liable to pay 75% of the Council Tax rate, which in central Oxford is between £1075.07 and £3225.20 depending on the valuation of the property.

OUSU will be holding an information evening for anyone interested in pushing for similar changes in their college.

For more information, email welfare@ousu.org. For any problems, support can always be found at advice@ousu.org.

Oriel to quit OUSU after referendum ruling

Oriel to quit OUSU after referendum ruling

Oriel’s JCR is set to disaffiliate from OUSU, ending a three-month dispute over its membership.

A referendum last term saw a vote in favour of leaving, but a dispute over procedure led new JCR Vice President Adam Goldthorpe to get a “binding” recommendation from a Law tutor at the college.

The tutor ruled on Sunday that abstentions in the referendum did not count under Oriel’s constitution, meaning that the result stands.

The ruling ends a long-running saga which saw the previous Returning Officer resign after OUSU President Tom Rutland received a copy of the proposition’s arguments in advance.

“There were procedural issues stemming from a lack of concrete guidance in the JCR constitution, from which we are keen to move on in a timely and constructive manner,” Ianthe Greenwood – Oriel’s JCR President – said last week.

“In order to do so the JCR has asked an independent adjudicator to review the referendum and provide suggestions, which the JCR has agreed to accept as binding.”

Tom Rutland, OUSU President, said the move was “a shame”.

“Much of the discussion that took place concerned OUSU’s policy positions – including OUSU’s response to the Vice-Chancellor’s suggestion that undergraduate fees should rise anywhere up to £16,000. OUSU took a strong stance on the VC’s comments on fees – and it was absolutely right to do so.”

“Of the 23 JCRs that discussed the issue, 20 of them voted to condemn the statement and back OUSU’s position. I won’t apologise for representing the majority view of students on this – that’s precisely what OUSU’s here to do,” he added.

The decision will last for the rest of this academic year. Currently, the only other disaffiliated college is Trinity.

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