York University's student union has refused for a second time to officially recognise a feminist society, leaving students angry, frustrated and excluded.
Students campaigning for the York University Feminist Society (FemSoc) to be ratified by the student union have vowed to fight on, accusing union workers of being "hypocritical" and having "ulterior motives".
The university's student union (YUSU) told FemSoc members they had failed in their second attempt to be recognised because the society did not display "a unique need to become an exclusive society". The union also cited a concern about a "duplication of efforts" due to the presence of the already-established Women's Committee - a liberation and welfare committee and a branch of the union.
Helena Horton, who first wrote about the issue for student newspaper the Yorker, told The Huffington Post UK: "We found it strange when we were told that we are duplicating aims as a society, as LGBTQ Liberation and Welfare Committee, and LGBTQ social society, both exist separately, one as a Liberation and Welfare network and one as a ratified society.
"It seems slightly hypocritical of YUSU to allow this, as the two seem far more similar than FemSoc and WomCom, and not us."
Horton, the student behind the campaign to have the Sun removed from the union shop, added: "We have two ratified campus newspapers, who cover the same stories and the same sports. Why is this not counted as a 'duplication of interests' and our society is?
"There seems to be an ulterior motive at work here."
FemSoc describes itself as a political group, and, if recognised as an official society, would "meet weekly to discuss Feminism and Feminist issues in a welcoming, informal and inclusive group".
On the society's Facebook group, student Sam Lindsay asked: "There is a Labour Society on campus that YUSU ratified, despite there being an actual Labour Party. What about the 'duplication of efforts' there?"
The FemSoc society is now gaining support from students across the UK, with one University of East Anglia student Victoria Finan tweeting:
YUSU issues guidelines to societies seeking ratification which include:
"Does a society with similar aims and objectives already exist? Or a society that already attracts their target membership?
"Does the society have the potential to develop its members?
"Does the society display sustainability? Is it financially viable and sustainable? Membership
"Is the society inclusive? I.e is it open and accessible to all students?"
One York student suggested the Women's Committee and the FemSoc join forces:
But concerns were raised about the inclusivity of male feminists in the group:
An email from YUSU's activities officer Chris West to FemSoc's president Alex Wilson following the failed appeal read:
"Thank you for coming in yesterday to present your appeal.
"Unfortunately, the panel decided to uphold the original decision to not ratify the society. They were happy with your explanation of the way it would work, and were satisfied with the demand for such a group to exist, but did not feel it displayed a unique need to become an exclusive society, and were concerned about the duplication of efforts.
"The suggestion we would like to make from here would be to arrange a meeting with myself, Bob Hughes and the Women's Officers, and see how the two groups can link together, which we see as a great opportunity to expand the ways women are represented and how feminism is expressed both on and off campus. The ideas and messages you portrayed in the appeal would be extremely valuable in potentially changing the way that the Women's Network is run, and we would love to get the two groups together and see how we can arrange this. At the meeting I would also be happy to discuss how we can offer you some of the benefits that we discussed at the appeal, such as email accounts and Freshers Fair stands, which will help you to continue with your goals. I am happy to coordinate such a meeting for next week, if you are able to let me know when the best time is for you.
"You are welcome to re-apply to be a society in the next round of applications, which will be in the Autumn Term, but we would suggest trying the link with Women's Network first.
"Please let me know when you would be available next week for the aforementioned meeting, and if you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch."
West told HuffPost UK: "At York, we have a Societies Committee who decide upon society applications, and then an appeals body that hears any appeals for unsuccessful applicants. There is a list of criteria that is available to all prospective societies when they apply, which is used by both panels when making their decisions.
"The application for Feminist Society was rejected on the grounds that the proposed society was not "exclusive from other areas of the Union", in this case the Women's Network, which is active and holds very similar aims and objectives. As a Union, we have limited resources, and so it's important that we don't replicate effort when it comes to student activities.
"Obviously, we also don't want to turn away enthusiastic students, which is why we're now working to bring the proposers of "Feminist Society" together with the Women's Network, so that they can achieve their objectives within the existing setup."
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