UCL Students’ Union removes full-time BAME and Women’s Sabbatical Officer positions

Both positions will now come under the remit of the new Equity Officer

The UCL Students’ Union has announced the BAME and Women’s Officer positions will no longer be full-time sabbatical officers.

Instead, the two are being replaced with an Equity Officer who will oversee a number of part-time liberation officers.

The position comes as part of a union restructure which was unanimously approved by the current sabbatical officer team.

On the 18th January, the decision to remove the positions as part of the new officer structure was debated and modified in the Union Executive meeting. The result was that the Equity Officer would be made as a new, full-time, paid role.

The Equity Officer will be responsible for the new Equities Unit that is being introduced at UCL in the hopes to provide more support campaigns, casework, and student-led projects to tackle racism, discrimination and harassment, and provide the support our liberation officers have lacked in recent years.

Under the Equity Officer, there will be a number of part-time student liberation officers, and these will include a Woman’s Officer and BAME Officer alongside a Disabilities Officer.

Whilst UCL made this decision to streamline the sabbatical officers into six rather than seven full-time roles, in the hopes of making the positions more manageable, many students are doubtful and think this is a huge oversight made by the union.

First year student Mai told The London Tab: “The decision to abolish the roles of BAME and women’s officers is another step towards the death of inclusivity and representation. There is now no direct point of contact for marginalised students to reach out for help — a safe space has been stripped from BAME students and students identifying as women.”

Finalist Urja voiced her concerns about there only being one full-time position: “I don’t think one person can divide their time well enough to represent both female and BIPOC interests. UCL still has a lot of work to do in both areas and this feels like a step backwards, not to mention equity can include the interests of lots of other marginalised groups who deserve their own representatives.”

Mansi, another finalist, was more understanding of the union’s decision but said that the protection of safe spaces is a fundamental consideration the union need to take: “BAME and women’s officers are hugely important and if they do think they need to extend the roles to manage the cases that’s good, but they should ensure they are hiring women/POC to keep the safe space for these kinds of issues.”

A Students’ Union UCL spokesperson said: “The Women’s Officer and Black and Minority Ethnic Students’ Officer remain part of our representative structure as part-time officers and will continue to represent students who define themselves as Women and/or BAME. Making these roles part-time is a significant decision and one that was taken after extensive research and consultation, this decision was then unanimously approved by a vote of the Union’s Executive. The current experience of Women and BAME students at UCL, and globally, demonstrate why these Officers are and will always be necessary, and why, most importantly, they need to be robustly supported. We’re confident in the work that has gone into making this decision; the research, consultation, scrutiny, debate, and democratic vote to implement the change gives us a good foundation to build on. We’ve created a structure that will ensure our liberation work is sustainable, fully supported, and sets us on a positive path for the future.

“Since the last full review of the Sabbatical and Part-time Officer roles in 2015, the responsibilities carried by each role have become significantly heavier, and at times, more constrained by a continuously growing list of obligations. Some Sabbatical and Part-time Officers have taken on detailed casework as part of their work, creating a legal risk as well as an emotional burden over and above the responsibilities they were elected to carry out. Ultimately, we needed to refocus the roles of elected students on representation and make sure they’re structured to deliver the most amount of student influence on UCL. We can do much more to improve the support available for liberation officers – students who work tirelessly to represent the views of those often disadvantaged in their experience of UCL – and we believe this new structure allows us to do just that.

“Introducing the Equity Officer and Equalities Unit enables us to give the liberation officers the support they need to make substantial change to the way students experience UCL. Tackling discrimination, decolonising our curriculum, improving the accessibility of campus, being actively anti-racist. The additional resource made available by this change enables us to introduce a trained and specialised staff team and support structure for our liberation officers, supporting all student-led efforts to achieve equality at UCL.

“The Equity Officer, who will be elected in an all-student vote this March, will be a full-time, paid, 12-month sabbatical post, open to any student at UCL. The Equity Officer will lead the new Equalities Unit in the Union and will be part of the Union’s Trustee Board, Executive Committee and be an active member of dozens of UCL and Union committees with a focus on equity and inclusion. Most importantly, they will support student communities and networks including the BME Students’ Network, the Women’s Network, the LGBT+ Network, and the Disabled Students’ Network to grow, support their members, campaign for change, and continue to educate the UCL community on equality and inclusion issues.

“We’re a student-led organisation. Students decide what happens here by putting forward ideas, initiating policy, standing for election and voting. Over the next month, 1,000’s of students will take part in the Leadership Race by either standing for election or voting. The Leadership Race is open to all and we want as many students as possible to take part. You can find out about the Leadership Race here.

Read more about why these changes to the sabbatical officer structure have been made.