Durham Union will attend Freshers’ Fair following two year ban

The decision recognised the Union’s improvements in equality, diversity, and inclusion

The Durham Union Society (DUS) will attend the 2023 Freshers’ Fair following a two year ban from the event.

The decision was made to recognise the work that the Union has done in improving equality, diversity, and inclusion, and to incentivise further work in this area.

It was made despite a vote taken by the Durham Student’s Union last year to continue the boycott of the Durham Union Society.

The boycott has been in place since 2021. Throughout these years, the boycott also prohibited the Union from holding meetings in Dunelm House and from being promoted within the Students’ Union.

The Union has agreed to promote an equalities officer to the standing committee as part of the re-admittance deal. It also agreed to reform the officer’s code of conduct and make public the consultation of key stakeholders.

The news comes after a member of the Equalities committee at the Union was accused of racially abusing a member this year.

In a statement obtained by Palatinate, Durham Student’s Union president Dan Lonsdale said: “It is necessary to create an environment in which the student debating organisation, Durham Union Society, can become an inclusive and functional member of the student community, not a negative and unaccountable one operating on the outskirts.

“Our decision to allow DUS to purchase a commercial stall at the Freshers’ Fair is not an endorsement of their practices, their history or even of their existence. It is a recognition that both parties agree that having the same hostile debate every year, reopening the same wounds, and resolving nothing is unsustainable and at odds with building a better culture at Durham. DUS exists. It will continue to operate on campus for the foreseeable future. I believe Durham students will be better off because we have done this work.

“The co-operation of DUS with the SU throughout this journey is non-negotiable and our support – and access to our students via Durham SU fairs and events – is not unconditional. I want to assure students we will not allow any deviation from the standards agreed between both parties”.

The trustees of the Union said: “In accordance with DUS’s fundamental values of enabling free speech for all, regardless of background, and in recognition of the need to make DUS a leader in supporting and positively encouraging equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), we as trustees of DUS make the following commitments.

“In consultation with the society’s student leaders present and future, we have requested that the general committee promotes the equalities officer to the standing committee as soon as possible in Michaelmas 2023. We have full confidence in our EDI plan published in Easter term 2022, but we consider it necessary to demonstrate progress on its goals and so we will add to the equality officer’s new portfolio the responsibility to make public termly progress updates. Additionally, as outlined in our 2022 EDI plan, we will reform our officers’ code of conduct, updating the inclusion training recommended to our officers, introducing a positive duty towards respect and inclusion and improving safeguarding for whistle-blowers.

“As trustees, we will recruit a new member of the board of trustees with relevant experience in EDI. We intend to complete this appointment by the start of Epiphany Term 2024.

“Finally, we will establish a consultation of key stakeholders in the Durham community, including our members, to assess the progress of our EDI plan, to target any areas still requiring improvement and to ensure that DUS is a welcoming place for all students. This process will be overseen by the trustees and managed by an independent individual/organisation appointed by the trustees. We aim to have scoped and procured this consultation by the end of Epiphany term 2024. Coordination with students will be conducted through the president and the equalities officer.

“Through these measures, we intend to ensure greater cooperation with the Durham Students’ Union, reflected in our attendance at Fresher’s Fair 2023, and to build on our EDI progress, ensuring the DUS is a welcoming place for all members of the Durham community”.

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