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

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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