Aerial view of site

2014/15 will be a strange year for feminists at Swansea University. Rosie Inman’s stated intention going into this year was to replace the Women’s Officer position with that of a more general Liberation Officer, but The Siren has learned that we are to emerge from the 7 to 5 referendum with neither. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is a huge blow to socially liberal causes at the university. Rather than the step forward offered by a combined liberations officer sitting on the board of trustees, women and minorities at Swansea university have just lost their representation altogether. In a year that saw Singleton in the grip of feminist infighting, it appears that there has been a serious backlash against feminism as a whole in Swansea.

So where does that leave us? In a grave position, certainly, but not an impossible one. Earlier this year the Inman-backed disaffiliation of the Pole Fitness society was soundly defeated in a referendum. The opposition to this resolution may have consisted of an unholy coalition of third-wave feminists and more socially conservative students, but it demonstrated potential in the Swansea student body for feminist mobilisation, even against the Women’s officer herself. This will prove crucial over the next year, as students who would have received representation from a Liberations officer are left to fend more or less for themselves. The fight back against the Pole Fitness disaffiliation proved that Swansea’s feminist energies can be harnessed effectively and independently. That’s something to build on going forward, at least.

It has become clear that women and minority students at Swansea are going to have to hold their own ground, and the imminent foundation of the Swansea University’s Feminist Society will be crucial in this. The mobilisation of pro-equality students with an intersectional feminist society as a rallying point is absolutely key in making sure those who need representation in our student body are not completely disempowered. Without institutional representation, less privileged students are going to have to carve out a new place for themselves in student politics.

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Swansea University Student Union is heading into a difficult period for students whose representation has been diminished, but there are ways we can work to mitigate this. It is going to be difficult, but mobilising societies to campaign for equality is the only way to make sure this does not lead to the trampling of women and minorities at our university.

By Olly Treen

*Update: Current Women’s Officer Rosie Inman has responded to this article by saying:

‘Firstly, my stated intention going into this year was not to outright replace Women’s Officer, but to give students the opportunity to have a voice in their representation. In fact, I stated this in my post-results interview with Zoe for the Siren. At this stage (which, come on now, was about 11 months ago, opinions change), I thought the idea of an Equalities Officer (who would have to define into one of our four liberation campaigns), backed up by specific PTOs could potentially work. However, anybody who’s spoken to me about this in the last six months or so would know that my position on this has changed since I wrote my manifesto all that time ago. I fully believe that liberation campaigns need to be organised and run autonomously by those who are part of the oppressed group. I have been very vocal in my support of the Women’s Officer position during this consultation process (and I use the term consultation loosely, I’ll openly admit it’s been a joke) and during Executive and Trustee meetings.

The disaffiliation of the Pole Fitness society was proposed by another Trustee and all but one of the Trustees voted in favour (and the remaining abstained). Further to that, I actually seconded the motion to reinstate the society at Student Forum. I wouldn’t exactly call that situation “feminist infighting” but I’m more than happy to admit that we as a Board communicated our decision (and the reasoning behind it) to the society and to the wider student body very poorly. But I would say the majority of those who opposed that decision were not doing so on feminist terms as much as just on anger at the lack of communication and the admittedly over-zealous letter sent to the society.

I absolutely agree that the Feminist Society is a much-needed feminist prescence on campus, which is why Rachel (the society’s president) and I were so keen to see one set up in the first place, and I’m extremely proud of her and the rest of the committee for what they’ve achieved so far.

I have fought hard to keep the position of Women’s Officer during this consultation and I’m both upset and angry at the results. Frankly, the process has been a huge mess which has just left students feeling angry and alienated. That a cross-campus ballot resulted in students voting for the removal of the two positions that work for the benefit of underrepresented groups is, sadly, unsurprising. But it is more upsetting to me both personally and professionally that, at these meetings, so few others were willing to speak up with me against the majority for the benefit of the minority.

Please rest assured that whether I’m an SU Officer, a member of the Feminist Society, just your average student, and long after I graduate, I will continue to fight for fair representation and equality for women and I will stand beside Disabled, LGBT+ and BME liberation groups as the best ally I can be – and know that by no means do I plan on being the last Full-Time Women’s Officer of SUSU.’

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