Muse Interviews

Q&A: Nadine Smith and Sophie Meehan, YUSU Women Officers

Jenna Luxon speaks to the university's women's officers about the issues facing women on UK campuses

Why is having a Women’s Network and Women’s Officers at York important?

Having a group of people and a physical space on campus that is completely inclusive and can advocate women and non-binary students is vital. The representation and recognition of all liberation groups on campus is essential to YUSU being effective and actively representing all students.


What would you say is one of the biggest challenges faced by students who identify as female?

Academic confidence for women and non-binary students, particularly on male dominated courses. Academic confidence, is feeling like you have a valid place at the University, that you deserve to voice your opinions and have them heard in an academic setting. Many of the existing social conventions at University, such as excluding women from the curriculum, suggest to female students that they are not welcome here.


If you had unlimited time, money and resources, what is something you’d have wanted to do with your position as Women’s Officers at York?

Organise and host a women’s conference which was something we tried to do but due to budget limitations, timings and other factors wasn’t possible. Also, to have been able to run a university-wide sexual harassment and violence campaign.


One of your aims when becoming officers was to establish women’s representatives in every college. In the past there has been controversy
on campus about the lack of Men’s Officers – what are your thoughts on this?

I’d return to a comment I made last year during elections that “men do not need a Men’s Officer because men aren’t oppressed” (Sophie). The essential purpose of the liberation groups on campus is to liberate and empower those who are disadvantaged due to systematic social structures which inhibit them from reaching their potential. Hence why we need a women’s network, BAME, LGBTQ+, working class and disability, because these are the protected groups in society that need their voices to be ‘liberated’, hence ‘liberation networks’.


NUS research over the past few years consistently flags up ‘lad culture’ as being one of the greatest threats to women on university campuses – do you agree with this?

Lad culture is a difficult thing to talk about because it’s the sort of thing that is easily deniable, excusable even, because of the ‘it’s just a joke’ element. But it is most definitely a problem. In usual conversations about lad culture, the moment a woman brings it up, she’s silenced for being a feminist who can’t take a joke. Thus, the behaviour is continually excused as “banter” instead of being called out for what it actually is, usually (sexual) harassment, bullying or verbal assault.


Could you offer any comment on the widely reported ‘rape comments scandal’ at Warwick University this past year? To what extent are these events concerning for female students up and down the country?

The events happening at Warwick University only go to highlight this same ‘lad culture’. Confirming yet again that this kind of behaviour does occur on university campuses, as was seen here at York last year with the Vision scandal. This is extremely concerning for female students as it demonstrates how the systems in place to punish perpetrators of harassment are so often ineffective and even work in the perpetrators favour, as we saw at Warwick.


As has been shown, it is hard to talk about threats to female students without also discussing sexual harassment. What would you recommend that the University can do to prevent such behaviour, especially considering that research shows it most frequently takes places during Freshers, on nights out or as part of sports socials?

First and foremost, improving consent talks is vital. Initiatives such as ‘Don’t Leave a Girl Behind’ that encourage ensuring that you know where your friends are when going home after a night out are also important. As for sport socials, there needs to be some sort of intervention from YUSU as there have been too many cases this year and previous years where sports teams do themes which blatantly disrespect, degrade and marginalised women. ‘Sluts and pimps’ and ‘back to school’ are among the many that are simply not acceptable and it is something that needs to be addressed.


On a cheerier note, can you give any examples of success stories you’ve seen for women at York – what should we be celebrating here at York this International Women’s Day?

Firstly, our committee. We have an amazing committee who helped us collect a huge box of sanitary products from colleges and around campus to donate to a local homeless charity before Christmas, which was incredible. The number of women who are running for full-time or part-time YUSU officers this year compared to last year is amazing. We are actually running a panel and Q&A for International Women’s Day. This panel includes college committee members, society chairs and course reps - the line-up is incredible and is a credit to the quality of women in student leadership roles at York.


Interview by Jenna Luxon

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