As many of our readers will be aware, in the past month Swansea University has been embroiled in a heated media controversy, after allegedly “banning” a Pole Fitness Society from the University, for reasons explicitly linking the activity to the sex industry. Until now, Swansea University Students’ Union has largely kept quiet about its position on the whole affair. As such, media reports have only been able draw conclusions on the Union’s standpoint from a letter written by an external trustee member. Consequently, the real decisions made over Pole Fitness at the university may have been misconstrued or entirely omitted. With these facts largely missing, it is of little wonder that The International Pole Dance Community have demanded that the Union “justify [their] position..followed by evidence”, or else face possible legal action.
In response to this, The Siren got in touch with two major representatives from the SU, in order to try and garner a more specific response regarding their actions. What follows is an account the responses they gave.
Firstly, the Union representatives wanted to point out Pole Fitness was never actually “banned”, as the group wasn’t given full SU affiliation in the first place. In fact, when the society was initially granted approval in 2012, it was only accepted on the limited grounds that it would not be allowed to hold classes, or advertise themselves, on university premises. These terms were accepted by the society committee, and in return, the club was given access to funding from the Students’ Union. However, this approval was only from the Union and not trustees.
Therefore, at an Annual General Meeting reviewing all sports and societies, the external trustees and new Union members felt it important that this decision be re-evaluated From one of these external trustees came a speech, one that was later replicated in a letter to Pole Fitness, and has been subsequently reprinted in media reports.
After much debate on both sides, the unanimous decision was that if members could not agree on giving the society full membership benefits and affiliation with the SU, then it would be unfair to support the society at all. The consensus according to one representative was that it shouldn’t be “the job of the SU to police its societies”. They firmly believe that any Union endorsed society should not have to suffer under these restrictions and should be free to run as they wish.
Still unhappy with this reaction however, the Pole Fitness society has created an on line petition to have their society reinstated via change.org, which you can find here :
In spite of this, many will wonder why I would want to bother bringing back up an issue that’s, frankly, old news to many students at Swansea. Many will also sense that the lack of official comment on the Student’s Union Website itself is probably more beneficial than adding more fuel to an argument that will damage the University’s reputation further and make the whole situation worse.
However, whether you agree with the petition or not, simply looking at the comments alongside it goes to show that others will continue to talk increasingly about the Union’s decision, even if we ourselves at Swansea do not.
As such, this is not a comment piece discussing my views on Pole Fitness as a feminist or a writer – that debate continues elsewhere. Rather, what I feel we students can learn from this whole scandal is the importance of communication between ourselves and our Union. As a writer and co-editor for The Siren, I come from a position of extreme privilege whereby I am able to contact members of the union if need to, and am able to keep fairly abreast with current events. Without this advantage however, I am absolutely certain that even has a final year student I wouldn’t have the foggiest about the responsibilities of our Union is all about or how I could get involved should I wish to.
This isn’t a time to point fingers, however, I think the problem of miscommunication between the University Union, its trustees, and its students is a very real and pressing one. Furthermore, I would argue that its causes are two-fold.
Firstly, often students don’t want to get involved with the drama of student politics, and such avoid interaction with it at all costs. Saying this though, I do believe if students want to avoid being misrepresented in decisions like the one taken against the Pole Fitness Society, then it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to at least try and stay aware of what’s going on. I’m not saying we all need to run for positions, but simply taking the five minutes to bother to log on to the union website and vote when various elections come around can hopefully make a world of difference. I mean, I don’t know about anyone else, but I do not want my beloved university to be known purely from the embarrassing media coverage that essentially boils down to the ideas that a) none of us know how to use the toilet properly and b) we currently aren’t allowed attend Pole Fitness classes on University premises, lest we become victims of a predatory sex industry.
My second main point is that greater student participation simply cannot and will not happen if the SU don’t increase their visibility on campus and on line, (particularly on line, as the Union moves towards asking for various election votes and nomination submissions purely via their website). That isn’t to say that the Union don’t already do an adequate job of updating the news portion of the website, they do, and information on each of the officers and their roles readily available to access there. However, their current level of involvement with their student audience clearly isn’t enough, judging by the abysmal levels of voter participation in both the recent Full- Time Officer referendum and Part-Time Officer elections.
Here at The Siren, I am fortunate to be enough to be supported by a fantastic team of writers and proofreaders that enable me upload articles on Union news on a fairly regular basis. Despite this, none of what we do is funded by the Union, (or anyone else for that matter). Hence, my point is that if we here at a small, unofficial, completely voluntary news source, are able to keep students somewhat informed about on the important political changes currently going on at their University, in spite of all our other degree and work commitments – then why aren’t the Union and official student media taking more steps to do the same, rather than criticising each other on how they feel about Pole Fitness?
By Zoe Alford
What do you think? What are your thoughts on the Union? How do you think communication between themselves and students could improve? We’d love to hear your comments.