‘We have a responsibility to do better’: Lancs Students on The Sugarhouse keeping its name

After a hard fought campaign by BAME students to rename Sugarhouse, its name remains the same

The Sugarhouse’s name remains the same following a preferenda in which students could vote to rename it. Many students are upset over this lack of change after multiple campaigns by several groups pushed for a change away from a name that has links to the Lancaster slave trade and sugar factory on which the club is built. Of those surveyed by The Lancaster Tab, 41 per cent were unhappy that the name was not changing.

Damla, a first year student, has voiced their anger at the people who put forward the option that The Sugarhouse should keep its original name. Their anger equally comes from those who voted for the motion. “They should be ashamed of themselves,” Damla said.

‘The person who put the original motion forward that Sugarhouse should be on the ballot should be ashamed of themselves’

Damla explained that that anger comes because of seeing the tireless efforts of BAME students to get the renaming through being undone because of people’s “ignorance and white fragility”.

“Those who voted for the name to remain the same cannot see that even getting the smallest thing done, like renaming The Sugarhouse, requires so much time, effort, and sacrifice, and for these voters to turn around and have the audacity to ask why BAME students cannot focus on the bigger issues is insulting and ignorant to how hard students worked to have the vote developed,” Damla told The Lancaster Tab.

‘At a predominantly white university, we have a responsibility to do better and support the whole community’

Ellie, a first year English literature and creative writing student, criticised the vote for not doing enough for the whole community and ignoring the responsibility the university has towards BAME students.

She spoke to us explaining that she feels that LUSU and the university have let students down, especially minority students, by not only deciding to include The Sugarhouse as a ballot option, but also in their failure to sufficiently explain to the wider student body the reasons for the vote and the implications of the club’s name.

Ellie said: “While it’s not the university or LUSU’s sole responsibility to educate the student body on matters like this, in this situation it was obvious that greater support was necessary. I only heard about the vote because I am on the same course as some of the girls who worked tirelessly to pass it.”

Ellie admonished LUSU, saying that it was a clear show of performance support and activism that was unacceptable. She said: “The vote does not reflect the views of the student body or the fight for racial equality and decolonising our society.”

‘It was an idea with good intentions, but it fails to have a proper impact on racism at Lancaster’

However, some students have said that the renaming of The Sugarhouse does not help in curbing the racism BAME students still face on campus. Alex*, a black medical student, came forward saying that changing the name of a nightclub doesn’t challenge racism; it’s superficial in its attempt to tackle racism and has not had an actual effect on society at university.

Alex said: “It’s procrastination – an attempt to do something “good” without making any actual impact. It’s like making a revision schedule without doing any revision in the end.”

Alex explained that the energy that was put into renaming the club, of which few students knew had racial implications, could have been used to educate people about racial inequalities and the effects of racism on minorities.

Alex said: “There are more direct ways to reduce racism in society than changing club names” and the medic student believes that all of this effort could have been used to help BAME students struggling on campus, and that this opportunity was wasted.

‘Lots of students continue to face daily institutional and personal racism while at uni’

Emilia, a second year English Literature and History student, believes that LUSU could have been more active in terms of explaining the history behind the name of The Sugarhouse.

“The history is uncomfortable for any Lancaster resident and student who knows about it, but by not being active in opening discussions about slavery and the role of Lancaster throughout the slave trade has allowed the history to be pushed aside.”

Emilia believes that LUSU should have been more upfront about how this history continues to affect students and been more active in encouraging people to speak on it.

The responsibility of promoting the vote fell solely onto the BAME Students’ Officer, Max Kafula, which Emilia has said should not have occurred. She said: “I think they should have worked collaboratively as a union in pushing the new names forward.”

A spokesperson for Lancaster University said: “The Sugarhouse is wholly owned and managed by the Lancaster University Students’ Union which is entirely separate from the university. As such, the university has no say or position on the naming or renaming of the Sugarhouse – it is a matter for students.

“However, we fully support our students who wish to raise awareness of the past connection between the city and the slave trade. It is important to acknowledge all facets of our city’s history and that we are able to discuss how we wish to recognise that past. If names are changed then one needs to ensure that the past is not forgotten. If the names stay the same then how do we use them to better understand our past and learn from it?

“As an internationally diverse university we remain strongly committed to protecting open dialogue, learning and better understanding – particularly around  challenging and painful issues such as this.  This commitment is underpinned by the university recently signing up to the principles of the Race Equality Charter.

“Lancaster University is a safe, inclusive environment and we have no tolerance for racism. Where racism or hate speech are reported to us, all staff and students should rest assured that we would not hesitate to take decisive action.  We will be reviewing all aspects of the student experience, which will include dialogue with all racial groups on campus, which we hope will lead to positive change.”

We approached LUSU for a comment but at time of publishing they have not commented on the situation at hand.

*Name has been changed for anonymity.

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