The Students’ Union recognises the sensitivity of, and strength of feelings surrounding this topic and has sought to bring together some useful information to help you understand the ins and outs of what has happened, why it’s happened and what will happen next.
1. Why is the Students’ Union having debates on political and sensitive topics?
- The SU has a long history of facilitating student debate on important political and current affairs issues and has taken a stance on a wide range of issues that are important to the student body.
- Democracy is a core principle of how the Students’ Union operates; student members decide what stances the organisation should have and what activity should take place, according to our charitable objectives.
2. Why doesn’t the Students’ Union remain neutral on topics that divide opinion?
- We appreciate the belief that it would have been best to not allow the debate to take place. The Students’ Union exists to promote the interests and welfare of students and as detailed in its governing documents may carry out campaigning activities and seek to influence public opinion on matters that are important to students. Charities like the Union can’t involve themselves in party politics or matters that do not affect students at Cardiff University, but can discuss and form views on matters that directly affect and are important to our students. It would not be democratic for the Union to dictate what topics the Union should and should not form views upon - that is for students to decide.
- Freedom of expression and the ability to form such stances have ensured our organisation has contributed to key debates in society; this is something we will defend vehemently for future generations of students.
3. What is the AGM and is it representative?
- At the Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 21st November, 792 students (+ 28 proxies) attended and took part in the setting the direction for the Union.
- All students are encouraged to attend this meeting and have their say. A proxy system is in place for students to take part where they are unable to attend
- The AGM is one of the largest to exist across all Students’ Unions in the UK; this is something we’re proud of and we think it is vitally important that so many students engage in our democratic processes.
4. How are motions decided?
- The Students’ Union facilitates debate to take place, and is not the proposer of the motions put forward. All students have the opportunity to put forward issues that are important to them. Individuals who hold voluntary or paid positions ( e.g. the Sabbatical Officers) within the Union have no greater influence on the motions on the agenda than any other student. Staff members’ involvement and attendance is to facilitate the logistics of the decision-making process, and not to sway the democratic nature of the meeting.
- At this years’ AGM, five motions were debated, and as is the case with all motions, the motion entitled ‘Adopt an Official Pro-Choice Stance’ was proposed by a student member.
- The meeting resolved that the Union should adopt a pro-choice stance and advocate this to its members.
5. What does passing the Pro-Choice policy mean in practice?
- The policy passed has a number of ‘resolves’ that state what activity the Students’ Union should carry out.
- The Students’ Union Satisfaction, Engagement and Participation Committee have since met to review these resolves and have taken a view to which of the resolves can go ahead without infringing on the views of others.
- The resolves around updating ‘Pregnancy Support’ webpages and sharing information about how to seek medical support will all be enacted.
- There is one resolve that the Union is unable to carry out and that relates to affiliated Societies (see below). The Union has an important role in ensuring that our students have the opportunity to use their rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression, within the law. As a result, we will not prevent information being circulated by student groups unless it is in breach of the law or any of the Union’s operational procedures (referred to internally as the Activities Laws). For the avoidance of doubt, these operational procedures concern the proper administration and conduct of student groups and are not the political policies agreed democratically. We also issue guidance to ensure that student groups and individuals abide by the expectations set out within the University Code of Behaviour and the Union Code of Conduct.
6. Does this mean Students with other views are no longer welcome in the Students’ Union?
- If students vote in favour of a position, it does not mean that students who have different views are censored or their views are not welcome within the Students’ Union.
- We recognise our responsibility to uphold freedom of speech. The Union forming a view does not mean that members are expected to confirm to that view or that other views are not welcome. With a student body of over 32,000 members, there are many contrasting views and beliefs, our democratic processes help us determine student opinion on these matters but doesn’t mean all will agree.
7. Can this stance be overturned?
- Policy lasts for up to three years; within that time, opinions may change, and further debate can happen.
- A subsequent general meeting can amend or change the decision made at a previous general meeting. This would involve further debate and a decision by students, after a topic has been proposed to seek further decision
8. Will student groups activity will be challenged as a result of this new stance and will they be allowed to remain affiliated?
- No, as mentioned above, student groups do not have to agree with stances that the Union forms on matters such as this topic. The University campus is and should be a place where different ideas and ideologies can exist
- Student groups have to follow the operational procedures that the Students’ Union puts in place, These procedures exist to ensure they are run safely and effectively. They don’t determine what a Society does, only how they should go about it.
- The Students’ Union has since met with some of the societies who thought that they might be negatively affected and have reassured them that we do not see any barrier to their continued affiliation and participation within the Students’ Union. It is our hope that they will continue to exist with the support of the Students’ Union, as with all other affiliated groups.
9. How are you supporting students who feel unsafe to have a view that does not align with the stance?
- The Students’ Union will not tolerate bullying and intimidation and implores all to show respect to those with different views when debating sensitive topics. We would encourage those who have experienced harm or fear to report their concerns to the appropriate channels, where these will be handled appropriately.
- The SU does not have control of external media platforms or anonymous social media channels, however we would ask that contributors to these sites be mindful of their behaviours, and the potential impact of their words and actions.
10. Why Cardiff SU and not other Students’ Unions?
- Debates of this nature are common practice across the SU sector over many years.
- There are many Students’ Unions that have a pro-choice policy and continue to have affiliated student groups who hold differing views. In the past year both Leeds University Union and Durham Students’ Union have reaffirmed their pro-choice positions.
11. Does this affect my education?
- As the Students’ Union is an independent part of the University, this debate has no impact on the teaching students receive, or their ability to question and challenge the world they live in.
12. Why are you allowing protests to happen?
- The Students’ Union does not have authority to stop protests (as has been seen outside the University Main Building this last week) happening outside of Union premises. We understand this may be frustrating to hear, but we’re only able to act within the powers that we have. Freedom of expression under the law allows protests to take place, even if it causes upset to others.
- We would encourage any students that may feel affected by what has occurred to seek support if they would like, or require, it. Information on how to contact Student Advice, the Students’ Union’s dedicated advice centre can be found here.
- Those who are wishing to engage with the protest or partake in a counter protest are encouraged to do so in a respectful manner. Neither the SU nor the University will tolerate any abuse (verbal or physical) towards anyone, whether they be students, staff or external parties. Students are reminded that the University Code of Behaviour and Union Code of Conduct both still apply whilst undertaking protesting activity.
13. The pictures that are on display are upsetting; where can I get support?
14. Other Universities have overturned their stance, why can’t we?
- The formation of policy such as this is in the hands of students. Students can choose to overturn policy through appropriate democratic means.
- There are some other instances of Unions changing their stance on this topic, but it is our understanding that in each of these cases, this is because the initial policy attempted to restrict / ban groups with alternative views existing. The motion at AGM was not intended to censor or restrict the activities of any student groups, and the Union has clarified its role in ensuring freedom of speech, including reaching out to student groups who may hold opposing views on pregnancy and reproductive rights.
15. Does the Pro Choice stance mean pro-abortion?
- No, the debate and stance that students have chosen to have is that the Union should support individuals who become pregnant by signposting them towards information regarding a range of options, examples of that advice can be seen here.