YOUNG VOICES

11 Times The NUS and Students' Unions Caused Controversy

One time, they banned sombreros

22/04/2016 15:06
NUS UK
A student raises their hand in agreement at the NUS conference in Brighton

This week student unions across the country began campaigns to disaffiliate from the National Union of Students following the election of Malia Bouattia as president.

Bouattia stoked controversy after her past statements were branded 'anti-Semitic', claims she was forced to deny.

But this isn't the only controversy involving the NUS and students' unions have made in recent times. From banning sombreros to replacing clapping with jazz hands, these are 11 of the most awkward and contentious decisions made by student bodies...

  • When They Banned Sombreros
    Giphy
    A Mexican restaurant was banned from handing out sombreros to freshers by student union officials at the University of East Anglia last year. Staff at Pedro's Tex Mex Cantina said they were "celebrating the culture" at freshers' fair, but were told they were breaking the union's equality regulations by promoting racist imagery and cultural appropriation.
  • When They Supported The #RhodesMustFall Campaign
    Twitter
    Oxford University Student Union supported the controversial campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College. The #RhodesMustFall campaign sought to "decolonise the institutional structures  and physical space in Oxford and beyond." Part of the SU's budget was "heavily depleted" by funding the project, and it won the President's Award for Outstanding Impact in 2016. 
  • When They Banned 'Transphobic' Cross Dressing
    YouTube
    The NUS banned "transphobic fancy dress" at women's conference last year. The motions document says: "Conference resolves to encourage Unions to ban clubs and societies from holding events which permit or encourage (cisgender) members to use 'cross-dressing' as a mode of fancy dress." However, despite this "zero-tolerance" approach, drag "as an expression or exploration of queer identity is to be encouraged."
  • When A Student's Arm Movements Violated Safe Space Policy
    Twitter
    Imogen Wilson, an Edinburgh University student, was threatened with removal from a student council meeting after she violated her student union safe space rules by making an arm gesture which "denoted disagreement". 
  • When Atheist Posters Were Taken Down
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    Students from London South Bank University's atheist society had their posters taken down by union officials. The poster, featuring God from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam as a flying spaghetti monster, was described as “religiously offensive”.
  • When They Voted Against Syrian Air Strikes
    Twitter
    Whilst Parliament were debating foreign policy, so were the NUS. They decided on the opposite course of action to Britain's elected representatives, but luckily for MPs, their vote didn't count
  • When They Planned To Ban Yik Yak
    Associated Press
    A motion to restrict anonymous messaging app Yik Yak during election campaigns was passed at this year's conference. “Anonymous accounts have the ability to shield racists, sexists, and cyber bullies from campus disciplinary procedures,” the motion read.
  • When They Asked Students To Use Jazz Hands Instead Of Clap
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    Nona Buckley-Irvine, general secretary at the London School of Economics Students' Union, told Newsbeat: "Jazz hands are used throughout NUS in place of clapping as a way to show appreciation of someone's point without interrupting or causing disturbance, as it can create anxiety."
  • When They Elected Malia Bouattia As NUS President
    Youtube
    Bouattia has been called anti-semitic by her opponents, after she referred to “mainstream Zionist-led media outlets”, and called the University of Birmingham a "Zionist outpost”. Her election has led to students calling for their unions to disassociate from the NUS.
  • When They Said Gay Men Weren't Oppressed Enough
    Peter Dazeley via Getty Images
    An NUS motion said: “Misogyny, transphobia, racism and biphobia are often present in LGBT+ societies," blaming "cis gay men" in particular.  It advised university LGBT+ societies to drop the gay men's rep, as they were not a marginalised group within the LGBT movement.
  • When They Refused To Condemn ISIS As It Was Islamophobic
    The NUS refused to pass a motion condemning ISIS for fears it could condemn Muslims as a whole. The motion asked students "to boycott anyone found to be funding the IS or supplying them with goods, training, travel or soldiers," which newly elected president Malia Bouattia argued could encourage the suppression and surveillance of Muslims. A re-worded motion condemning the terrorist group was later passed by the NUS.
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