Is The Sexist Heckling By Glasgow University Union Students Being Swept Under The Carpet?

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Glasgow students are boycotting their union after deeming its response to a sexist incident as ineffective and inappropriate.

Hundreds are rallying against Glasgow University Union (GUU) in the wake of the "shocking" misogyny demonstrated at a university debate over the weekend.

Several societies at the university have publicly disaffiliated themselves from the students' union saying the response "does not go far enough to reassure us - given the seriousness of the situation".

Two female debaters, Rebecca Meredith from Cambridge University, and Edinburgh student Marlena Valles, were booed and heckled during their appearance at the prestigious Glasgow Ancients debating competition, held over the weekend.

In an exclusive blog for The Huffington Post UK, Meredith, who has been ranked one of the top 20 speakers in the world, described the experience as "one of the most unpleasant incidents of my life".

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Students Marlena Valles (left) and Rebecca Meredith (right) were shocked at the misogynistic reception they received

In her HuffPost UK blog, Meredith writes:

"We were booed, heckled with 'shame woman' and exposed to sexual comments and queries of 'what qualifications does a woman possibly have to be here'. The difference between us? We were female.

"After the debate, a member of this group shouted "get that woman out of my chamber" as my partner Marlena passed.

"Students from Glasgow told us that the male members concerned often shouted 'whore' and 'slut' at female students. While a former female committee member stated that she had adopted 'battered wife syndrome' and had risen to the top of the GUU by accepting and ignoring misogyny. One said 'things will never change here, they are too powerful'."

The Cambridge Union, of which Meredith is a member, swiftly voted to revoke its reciprocal membership with the Glasgow debating society and announced it would not be sending any future members to GUU debates.

In her blog, Meredith adds: "We confronted the committee at GUU, and an individual involved, and what shocked us the most was that we were met with a brick wall of silence."

Although president of the GUU society, David Lockhart, said the union would be investigating the incidents, five student societies have written a public letter addressing the "failure to properly address misogynistic behaviour".

The Glasgow University Scottish Nationalist Association, Glasgow University Labour Club, Glasgow University Coalition of Resistance, Glasgow University Politics Society and the Glasgow University Feminist Society wrote:

"As affiliated societies, we are extremely disappointed about the accusations of sexist and misogynistic behaviour by members of the GUU at the Ancients debating final, which have brought the otherwise sound reputation of debating at the GUU and this university into disrepute.

"Misogynistic behaviour or discrimination of any kind should be strongly condemned and punished by the GUU. No-one at this university should have to face bullying or harassment, and we should always seek to promote equality and respect within debating.

"It is with consideration of this fact that we have decided to disaffiliate with the GUU until:
1 Appropriate disciplinary action, up to a life ban, is taken against those responsible; and
2 A commitment is made to promote gender equality within the GUU.

"While we welcome the recent statement from the GUU, it does not go far enough to reassure us - given the seriousness of the situation."

In addition, a rally has been organised against misogyny on campus, which will take place on Friday and coincide with International Woman's Day, and already has more than 400 confirmed attendees.

A petition started on change.org by Glasgow University student Caroline Moore to "expel the members responsible and show commitment to gender equality" has already garnered 3,855 signatures.

The honours year philosophy student said: "The incident at the Ancients embodies an entire culture of misogyny that has gone on far too long. This is our opportunity to change these damaging attitudes and send the message to students of the past, present, and future: that sexism does not belong in our union - this is not what happens here anymore."

Moore calls on the GUU executive members to "denounce the actions of these members" "to demonstrate their commitment to a sexism-free GUU by undertaking a gender equality training session", adding "The GUU is not a Boys' Club anymore."

Moore refers to the GUU's previous sexist policy on women. The union, which was founded in 1885 and describes itself as "the finest training grounds for young politicians", only voted to allow women to become members in 1980. In November 2012, the GUU hosted its controversial "Last All Male Board" (LAMB) dinner. The dinner, a long-running tradition, was set up to "commemorate" the last all-male board of management, after females were admitted. The president of the GUU, Lockhart, attends the LAMB events.

READ:
The Sexism I Faced at the Glasgow University Union

Cambridge Students Boycott Glasgow Debating Competition Over 'Sexist Heckling'

On Wednesday, Glasgow students received an email from the university's principal Anton Muscatelli, who wrote: "I want to reinforce this message by telling you that I was deeply distressed to hear of the reports.

"I view them extremely seriously and believe them to be deeply detrimental to the standing of this institution. I am writing to the two women speakers involved in the incident offering to meet them to apologise personally and on behalf of the University of Glasgow. I also welcome the statement issued by the GUU yesterday offering their unreserved apology..

"..I will also be seeking assurances from the GUU on their willingness to learn lessons from this episode and on what measures will be put in place to ensure that nothing of this nature ever happens again."

David Lockhart has been contacted for comment.

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