‘You clearly missed the point’ – Why the DSU got it wrong about Hatfield Fashion Show

Inefficiency and bureaucracy has meant innocent students have been labelled racists by the DSU, says HANNAH BURNELL

The motion put forward to disprove any imitation of race through body paint or fake tan in College Charity Fashion Shows was rejected by Assembly on Wednesday night.

The meeting held on Wednesday night was one of 8 held throughout the year where the 46 people who make up Assembly vote on decisions on our behalf. 46 people representing 17,000 students, only 25 of which turned up.

The controversy surrounding HCCFS2013 and HCCFS2014 has been well publicised with accusations getting far more personal than was ever necessary. The college events have been accused of racial insensitivities due to the generalising, stereotyping, and allegedly belittling themes: ‘Bollywood’ and ‘Africa’.

Hatfield College Charity Fashion Show 2014, the subject of the motion

Interpretations of racism are entirely subjective and it is not for anyone to say whether or not someone else was offended – intentionally or not. However, the motion put to Assembly on Wednesday never attempted to deny that.

At the last meeting, a motion was passed which stated that issues of racial and cultural insensitivities at Durham University need to be addressed, a worthy policy that no one disputes. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly though HCCFS was singled out for their ‘racist behaviour’ by ‘browning up’ students as part of the Bollywood theme. A false accusation.

In response Hatfield’s Senior Man proposed the motion to remove any suggestion that students or models had ‘blacked’ or ‘browned’ up at either HCCFS 2013 or HCCFS 2014. Simply that.

‘Blacking up’ or just fake tan?

The rest of the original motion – the need to address the suitability of future themed events and increase awareness of racism in Durham – would still stand.

Hatfield’s Durham Students’ Union Representative said, “We feel that there has been a misunderstanding regarding the use of fake tan and orange body paint at the HCCFS 2013 and therefore felt that it was important to make absolutely clear that no student ‘blacked’ or ‘browned’ up at the Fashion Show.”

The new motion was accused of missing the point.

It was deemed to simply dismiss accusations of racism, deny any blame of offence caused and ignore the complaints that were made.

A student who attended HCCFS 2013 and 2014 spoke at the meeting. “The notion that dark cosmetics were used with any idea of race in mind is utterly preposterous. Were you to attend any fashion show, held within the university or elsewhere, the presence of copious amounts of fake tan is obvious, but disagreeing with its use on any grounds other than simple aesthetics is ridiculous.”
The student also reminded Assembly of “the hard work and dedication of the students who put the event on. By demonising them and their event in both the university and wider press, there is an extreme risk of dissuading students from running these sorts of charitable events in the future.”

There is an ‘extreme risk’ of dissuading students from running charitable events

“I would be very surprised if students would be willing to put their heads above the parapet and try and do good deeds like this in the years to come.”

The event organisers have said, “Last night’s motion was not an attempt to rid the Hatfield Fashion Show 2013 or 2014 of racist allegations – we simply wanted to state the facts that no one used fake tan or orange/blue body paint in an attempt to ‘black up’ or imitate a culture.”

“A racism allegation is a very serious matter, one we and our college have taken very seriously. However, cultural insensitivity is entirely subjective, and we would like to make it clear that we received just one formal complaint, originating from an individual who did not attend the event. Therefore we believe this story has been blown out of all proportion, and should now be laid to rest.”

There was controversy as to whether the two fashion shows could be called ‘a success’ – the description given due to the money it raised for WaterAid. Admittedly raising over £5,000 for charity does not negate the offence that was caused, but when an over-excited student opposing the motion compared the event to Hezbollah, a militant Islamist organisation, it seems to have gone a step too far.

HCCFS a militant Islamic organisation? Seems unlikely

Assembly was also asked to think whether the organisers had “ever even been to Bollywood” before stereotyping in their themed event. Perhaps the opposition should have looked to themselves before accusing others of cultural ignorance.

The chair of the meeting called an end to the debate, but not before the Academic Affairs Officer addressed the Assembly. He believed that to change a motion so recently put in place would ‘set a bad precedent’. In other words, to remove a false accusation of serious implications would look unprofessional. To admit making a mistake would look bad.

The sabbatical officers – “They make sure your voice is heard”

When one of the 5 sabbatical officers gives that message, it seems a somewhat lost cause. Especially when their website promotes Assembly as ‘your representatives’ who ‘are there to work for you’.

Just before Assembly was asked to vote the motion’s seconder reminded everyone what they were voting for, purely to remove the false allegations that Hatfield students or models ‘blacked’ or ‘browned’ up in either fashion shows.

5 voted for the motion, 9 voted against, 11 abstained and 21 didn’t even bother to turn up. The motion fell, and so now I think it’s fair to say Assembly, it is you that has clearly missed the point.