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Election candidates complain of outing at training session

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Image: Dan Powell

YUSU electoral candidates have complained that an exercise at a mandatory training session has resulted in the outing of those present. The session involved standing next to various denominations of social identity and asking personal questions around said identifications. The identities used were sexual orientation, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability, and class.

One of the candidates, who spoke to Nouse, said that they had been asked "which aspect of [their] identity was most emphasised in [their] family", which they were very uncomfortable with, due to the negative connotations of the candidate's family's relationship with their sexuality.

Summing up how divisive the session was received was one candidate's illustration of the event as "LGBTQ students standing on one side of the room with a bunch of straight white men standing on the other". Another candidate told Nouse that the activity "led to explanations which outed people or candidates deliberately hiding aspects of [their] identity".

According to an individual present, the organisers of the activity also didn't let candidates know they had the right to abstain, a fact that was only made clear after the activities had ended and candidates raised their concerns. A candidate added that even if said right had been presented, it would effectively serve the same purpose as walking over to the signs. The candidates were also allegedly not told about the personal nature of the activity beforehand, emboldening the view of the activity as invasive.

This is the second time the activity has been a part of YUSU Elections, and the second time in which the partakers have raised their concerns. One participant who was at both years' events said that the training session had remained effectively unchanged from the previous year.

Nouse has been informed that YUSU did not offer chances for the participants to voice their concerns in the form of a debriefing. Many expressed the needlessness of the blatant and obvious way in which the candidates had to express their identities. Some candidates even suggested that YUSU do away with the activity altogether.

A further blow to the event was the lack of accessibility candidates felt the event afforded. The session required a prolonged period of standing, again without forewarning, leaving disabled students feeling further alienated.

Overall, candidates who spoke to Nouse were left "massively disappointed". It remains to be seen whether next year's YUSU election will heed the calls for change in the training that some have called for.

When asked for a response to the criticism, YUSU President Alex Urquhart told Nouse: "While we are sorry to hear Nouse's report that some students felt uncomfortable, there was absolutely no requirement for participants to share identities or disclose personal experiences that they did not wish to."

Contrary to reports, Urquhart asserted that "candidates were entirely free to make a choice about whether or not they participated. They were informed of this at an appropriate point."

"YUSU welcomes constructive feedback on the candidate training session. Candidates had been invited to inform organisers of access needs ahead of the training day and the training was designed to accommodate those needs. It drew on feedback from a similar session in the 2017 candidate training and was incorporated into the 2018 session at the specific request of students, who on the whole were extremely positive about the session.

"YUSU is committed to creating an inclusive, respectful and welcoming environment for all members. This element of the candidate training used a session on intercultural dialogue that has been delivered extensively throughout the University as part of intercultural competency training. The activity was a variation of a common 'identity corners' workshop, which encourages participants to think about different social identities and the emotional influence they carry. It is designed for participants to recognise the spectrum of perspectives around social identities to help highlight to the candidates the diversity of the student body, and therefore the importance of being sensitive and respectful when campaigning."

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