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Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Solidarity with Women students in Wales

The following open letter was recently circulated by a feminist student activist in Wales. 
Open Letter to NUS Wales Women's Officer and Aberystwyth Guild of Students

I am a member of NUS UK Women's committee, a dedicated student activist and feminist and a member of my students' union.

Reports have circulated depicting Ben Meakin, President (who is planning to re-stand) of Aber Guild at Superteams, holding a pint and having fake fellatio performed by a female student while standing on a staircase in front of a room of people.

To my knowledge Aber have a Zero Tolerance policy. They've also recently passed, to much celebration, a new policy giving their students part-time liberation officers. This behaviour from a sabbatical officer and a member of the WNEC in the context of these policies, combined with the attitude of the Guild's elections committee, leads me to believe that the Guild is doing and excellent job of paying lip service to liberation and not much at all to protect women students.

I am also concerned that there has been no comment as yet from the NUS Wales Women's officer Stephanie Lloyd, who in her bid to become NUS Wales President, has been supported by Ben Meakin. Considering that the NUS Wales Women's Campaign has a responsibility to women students in Wales to directly oppose this kind of behaviour from students and officers, the fact that it's making the rounds so quickly and has yet to receive comment from the foremost student feminist in Wales is appalling.

The right of students to run in sabbatical elections does not trump the rights of women students to be treated like human beings, and not sexual objects. The right of students to know exactly what kind of person they are electing- including people who behave unprofessionally and as misogynists while President of their Guild- absolutely trumps any notions of upholding a semblance of electoral neutrality. There has been no apology, no disciplinary action, and no comment on the political and social ramifications for the status of women in Aber Guild that will result from the Guild President freely acting out his opinions on women in society.

This is not an issue on which NUS Wales or Aber Guild have any right to be neutral or passive. They must stand up against this kind of behaviour and set the example and the standard for rooting it out when and where it happens. Quite frankly as a woman student and as an activist who has spent countless hours through my degree working on the Women's Campaign to see this pass by under the guise of "elections fairness" tells me that NUS Wales and Aber Guild both prioritise elections over women's basic right to be treated as human.

I expect the Women's Officer to reject Ben Meakin's support publicly, to make a statement on the behaviour depicted in the photograph that is circulating, and Aber Guild to do its duty to its women students and disqualify Ben Meakin from re-standing for Guild President. I also expect him to publicly apologise for his role in the situation depicted in those pictures.

Students from Aber wishing to discuss this matter and oppose this behaviour as a matter of political principal should not be threatened with being banned from student elections. It is obvious who has the interests of women students in Aber at heart; clearly not the President, the elections committee, or NUS Wales Women's Officer. This situation absolutely cannot continue. I will not stand for it and neither will women students in Wales
Royal Holloway Feminism Society were inspired by an individual student standing up against the "casual misogyny that seems to permeate many Student Unions. We would like to extend our solidarity to those campaigning against sexual harassment and discrimination, and would like to send the following message of support to Jennifer Krase for taking a stand against what is going on.
Hi Jennifer

Several members of Royal Holloway Feminism Society read your open letter to the NUS Wales Women's Officer and Aberystwyth Guild of Students which was shared around on facebook, and the topic came up for discussion at our meeting tonight.

We would like to congratulate you on taking a firm stand against sexist behaviour in Student Unions. We appreciate both the importance and the difficulties of standing up against sexist behaviour by elected officers of Student Unions, and would like to extend are support and solidarity to you in your campaign to get the behaviour of Ben Meakin rightly condemned as completely inappropriate for an elected official of a Student Union, when SUs should strive to be safe spaces for every student. The women of Aberystwyth have the right to know full and frank details of this event, as well as hear it rightly condemned by those in positions of power, in order to be able to make a fair decision about who they want to vote for to be their President. It is disgusting that any attempt to cover up this, or any other sexist behaviour by elected officers of any Student Union, should be made.

We wish you the best of luck in your campaign.

In solidarity,

Royal Holloway Feminism Society

Edit: Since we published this, it has been brought to our attention that Ben Meakin has resigned as a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee and that the NUS Wales Women's Officer has rejected his support for her standing as NUS Wales President.


  1. This is a load of nonsense as a woman that was present at the time and a close friend of the woman in the photo. It was a woman that initiated this behaviour and there was approximately only 5 men in the building against the 170 women present the picture in question has been abused as there are dozens of other photos which clearly show that she was at least a foot away from his crotch everyone that participated in the superteams aftermath did so willingly as consenting adults and no-one was forced into anything they did not wish to do.....oh and ben Meakin has resigned as a member of the NUS Wales National Executive Committee (WNEC)and the NUS Wales Women's Officer has publicly rejected his support.
    im all for womens rights however no women were hurt or compromised during this incident the only hurt that she has been caused has been from people like you digging into her business and broadcasting what was just an innocent joke. You are just trying to ruin a mans reputation for your own political agenda and frankly that is far far far worse than anything that occured that evening

  2. Hi Lorien, thanks for commenting. We can assure we don't have a political agenda, at least as far as NUS Wales is concerned - we aren't students in Wales! We posted Jennifer's letter in full to make it clear what we were responding to. As far as I am aware, no one is suggesting that the act was not consensual, but rather that elected officials of Student Unions should expect to be called to account for their behaviour, and that in this case that does not seem to have happened.

    We decided to publish a letter of support to Jennifer because we were impressed by her challenging the culture of "casual" misogyny that is rife in Student Unions (and many other places). Such casual misogyny - sexist jokes, "lad"-style "banter", "pranks" which demean women - is insidious, and silently exclude women from participating in our Student Unions, which should be safe spaces for every student. It is incredibly difficult to challenge this culture, because anyone who dares do so is written off as just not being able to take a joke. We expressed our solidarity with Jennifer in her effort to take that stand and demand that an appropriate response be made.

  3. Hi Lorien,

    My political agenda should be clear from my words. I oppose the casual sexism of the event in which Ben participated. This is not innocent nor is it funny. This kind of behaviour props up misogyny in students' unions across the country and undermines the safety of women students. It encourages harassment and it encourages the view that women can be treated as sexual objects.

    The other issue is that Ben is responsible for the Guild. The buck stops with him. If it doesn't, then he isn't representing or defending students well. This was a Guild event and it was promoted and participated in by Guild members and led by the Guild AU President who I can see in the corner of the photograph- therefore it should never have happened. It runs completely counter to safe space policies, Zero Tolerance and the idea that the Guild supports women's liberation.

    I'm sorry if it appears I have a personal vendetta out against Ben. I don't. He DJ'd our Love Music Hate Homophobia event in Bangor back in December and until this happened I had no reason to have any opinion of him whatsoever. This is simply appalling behaviour and if you aren't offended by it, that is your prerogative, but there are plenty of students and prospective students who are, and it's a poor representation of student politics as a whole.

  4. I would also add, that yes, it is clear from the comments on my open letter that Steph Lloyd the NUS Wales Women's Officer has rejected his support. So has Luke Young, the NUS Wales President. They also asked for his resignation and have put out a joint statement, but have yet to directly engage with any students in public or on social networking, or promote these statements in an arena where most of the discussion has played out.

  5. The people who have spoken out against this have come from all corners - people who know him well, people who consider him a friend, people who don't know him at all. This isn't about anyone's personal politics at all. On a personal level I didn't vote for Ben, but like most people who disagree with this, I suspect, I couldn't care less about who it is - simply that the act occurred.

    As a InterPol student (and many of Ben's friends/supporters seem fond of saying "we're just here to get our degree, who cares about this!"), anyone who doesn't understand why this is a problem might I point you towards Gramsi's theory of hegemony - and bear in mind that if this was simply two people on the street it would not be an issue. The position that Ben holds in Aber Guild makes it more than that.

    And I will point out that no where has anyone suggested that the woman was actively forced to do this. So please, there's no need for the, "she wasn't forced to!".


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