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Current and former students have written an open letter to the University, criticising the removal of Cantonese democracy posters from a stand at Freshers’ fair a few weeks ago.
Cantonese students said that mainland Chinese students had complained about a ‘Lennon wall’ on the stand, which featured pictures and newspaper cuttings about the demonstrations in Hong Kong. Although the stand was largely left untouched, an article by the Times by York alumnus and avid Nouse reader Henry Dyer, reported that any posters in Mandarin were subsequently removed by campus security, who argued that stands at Freshers’ fair “should not contain politics.” This was self-evidently untrue, as Freshers’ fair hosted an entire room of political societies, from the Women’s Network, to the York Tories,
In the letter, current and former students argue that York’s Hong Kong students were “bringing this issue to the attention of their peers in a perfectly reasonable way”, and were entitled to free speech owing to the 1986 Education Act. It notes that the protest was “peaceful”, and calls the removal of material “appalling”.
It highlights the tension felt across the country between mainland Chinese students, who remain critical of Hong Kong protests, and Cantonese students who want to highlight the situation in their home country to fellow students.
Universities, too, must strike a balance between retaining goodwill with Chinese foreign exchange students, who present a lucrative revenue stream, and Cantonese students,who attend British universities ina comparatively smaller proportion according to the article in the Times.
In response to a request for comment by Nouse, a University spokesperson said: “We believe universities should provide a platform where a variety of views can be debated and challenged and we remain committed to creating a positive environment which is fair, welcoming and inclusive.”
YUSU’s official statement have also released a statement on the matter. “A number of media outlets have reported that Hong Kong students were told to remove a protest display from the University of YorkStudents’ Union’s freshers’ fair. These societies provide opportunities to learn about difference in a respectful, inclusive and safe environment and work with the Union to support our commitment to promote freedom of speech. YUSU takes its duty of care to all students seriously and is committed to ensuring student wellbeing is a priority in all Union activity.”