NCAFC Women’s and Non-Binary conference

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During the examination period I sent SU Management Group, through Jordan Kenny, the below letter. Management Group consists of the officers, the Chief Exec, the Deputy Chief Exec, and the SU Finance Director. I had asked to sit in attendance for the item to be able to answer any questions but was told this “would not be necessary”, as Jordan would present the item on my behalf.

Request for funding
 29th-31st January is the NCAFC Women’s and Non-Binary conference at Warwick SU. The conference is free to attend and accommodation is provided.
 I was planning to attend and had made this known. A group of students have approached me and explained that they would like to attend but would be unable to finance the cost of the train there – approx. £45 return to Coventry for the weekend. This is the only cost to students for the weekend. The students came to me asking if I thought the SU would be able to fund this, or at least to subsidise it, as otherwise they would be unable to attend. The group of students includes cis women, trans women, bisexual women, mature students…a diverse group of women with their own difficulties to overcome.
 I would first like to point out that this conference is a grassroots, activist conference tackling feminist issues and topics around Higher Education. The Students’ Union supports delegates going to NUS conferences so I believe this is no different – if anything, it should be supported more because it has not come from the SU; in fact students have approached the SU wanting to engage with grassroots activism. This is something the SU has declared it wants to support and is something we believe the SU should support.
I would then like to highlight the fact that the money being requested is for trains. I appreciate that NCAFC is a divisive organisation. None of the money being requested goes to their organisation or their cause; it is for National Rail shareholders.
 While we realise there is a Women in Leadership conference at the union, and one delegate sent to NUS women’s conference, we feel there is still more to be gained from extra networking and workshops, and most importantly, students themselves have requested to attend this one specifically.
 Finally, I believe students would gain a lot out of this. Aside from the intangible benefits of going to conference – inspiration, motivation, and a strong network of like-minded feminist campaigners – the workshops will cover topics such as social reproduction; cuts to the NHS and cuts to NHS bursaries; the Higher Education Green Paper; immigration and women; and the representation of women in curricula. The students who attend will be happy to return and disseminate to other students and to the union what they have learnt, what actions are upcoming, and what feminists at Bath SU can do to continue the campaign. One of the hopeful attendees is a BathImpact committee member and plans to write an article on the conference for the first issue, so it would be ideal to be able to add to the plans that we have the political and financial backing of the SU.
 There are currently 6 students who have expressed an interest in going were the transport funded. If the full amount is not possible even a subsidy of £25 per person would enable these women to engage with this campaign.

 Student names:
Sally Williamson
Becca Muir (BathImpact Features Editor)
Emily Mizen (Mature Students Chair)
Clémentine Boucher
Hayley Thorpe

Jordan’s reply the day after the meeting was as follows:

Officer Group took the decision not to fund the request that was submitted.
The reasons this decision were made are outlined below:

  • Officer Group this year has already taken a precedent to not support individual students to attend events that they feel would be beneficial to themselves on an adhoc basis.
  • No Bath SU group is affiliated to NCAFC
  • Student groups who engage in activity on top of their core purpose, from sport clubs to societies, are required to fundraise their own additional costs.
  • The representation of Women specifically is achieved through a number of methods, including the election by cross campus ballot of an NUS Women’s Delegate to NUS Women’s Conference and the quota of representatives that Bath SU sends to NUS National Conference having to be at least 50% self-defining Women students.
  • The Officer Group felt that if Women students thought this organisation may add value, then it may be possible to invite them to existing opportunities that occur on campus. However we should take a practical approach to looking at all organisations who may be able to positively contribute to the development of the membership.

First of all, I have some concerns about the actual process that took place. The Gender Equality group within the SU has a very small budget – while we were only asking for a small amount relative to the SU’s overall funds it is clearly beyond anything the student group, or the students, could fund. As there is no open process for students to apply for funding in cases such as this, we were advised to go through the closed Management Group, meaning no students (excluding Student Officers) were able to input on the process.

Second, reviewing Jordan’s actual response:

  1. While the individual students would themselves benefit from this, it is nonetheless a group of activists who requested to go; furthermore we have made it clear in our initial application that we would be keen to return to campus and disseminate what we have learned – in the same way delegates to NUS conference themselves benefit on the premise that they return to campus and can lead campaigns on relevant issues. The only valid issue here is that it is “on an ad-hoc basis”, which as the conference was only announced last month was relatively unavoidable on our part.
  2. If students can only attend events organised by groups to which the SU is affiliated we can essentially only engage with NUS and BUCS. The SU surely cannot suggest anything else is not useful.
  3. Assuming we are indeed a “student group”, we would be on behalf of either the SU-affiliated Gender Equality (of which we are all supporters), or the non-affiliated Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts. On either count, the Women and Non-Binary conference of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts is evidently not on top of our core purpose.
  4. It’s OK guys. The representation of women is achieved. We’re fine, we can go home now. Cancel the whole conference, in fact. I don’t even know how to respond to this in a non-sarcastic, non-passive aggressive way? Women are clearly well represented to NUS but women on campus clearly don’t feel sufficiently represented – and therefore there is demand to attend a grassroots feminist conference.
  5. His final point seems to conflate the value of the conference with the value of the organisation. Women students on campus feel attending the conference may add value – not merely engaging with the organisation. The aims of NCAFC’s Women and Non-Binary conference and the workshops covered have precisely no overlap with Bath SU’s Women in Leadership event. Clearly there is demand for both. Jordan here also adds a small get-out cause to avoid actually committing to inviting NCAFC on campus – whatever a “practical approach” means here.

Finally, it is clear the amount of money we were asking for is not the issue. This is a matter of principle, and the principle is that student activists asked for financial support in accessing transport to a grassroots, activist event. The main value of the Students’ Union is, rightly, being student-led, and its 3 year strategy outlines the first priority as being “student-led initiatives and campaigning”; similarly, the SU campaigns page states “Grass roots campaigning can be more influential than politicians, officers, staff, or other leaders just talking about the latest issue.” The SU should support students in grassroots campaigning, and if a group of students approaches the SU wishing to do this then the principle of this should be supported – or at least should be debated in a democratic, student-led way.

In short, the objections raised by Officer Group were actually already addressed in my initial proposal, but as there was no discussion I was not able to debate this. The discussion has now been shut down and once again student activists are looking to alternative sources – including campus trades unions, who have repeatedly financially supported students going to demos against tuition fees and tuition fee increases when the Students’ Union has refused to do so. Otherwise, it is increasingly likely that only one or two privileged students will be able to attend, and grassroots campaigning at Bath SU will continue to stumble.

Update: since this discussion, Bath UCU, a staff trades union on campus, have provided a subsidy to fund transport to the conference.

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