University of York Students' Union (YUSU)

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Code of Conduct Briefing Response

Posted by Christopher Wall, 30/10/2015

YUSU takes harassment in all it’s forms very seriously, and as a Union we want to educate our members in what is acceptable and what is not. We want to encourage our members to be brave and not afraid to challenge behaviour that is unacceptable. 

As societies are the largest group of students the Union has access to, we felt it would be smart to work with them to promote acceptable behaviours. 

The code of conduct we asked societies to sign and make their members aware of is a slightly modified version of the one sports teams are asked to sign during their ratification process. 

There were some concerns raised around the implementation of the code and I hope to address these here:

1. Why Was the Code Not Consulted On?

The code was designed with consultation from professionals within both YUSU and the University. I did not feel it needed consultation the widest sense as it is different from policy. It is akin in my eyes to the room bookings agreement where you are expected to meet certain standards rather than a policy which is what societies or the Union believes. The code is designed based off of the code already agreed by sports clubs and whilst modified primarily for making grammar and context (changing ‘sports club’ to ‘society’ for example) it isn’t very different. This has been signed by the clubs without any controversy for the past two years and any necessary changes have been made in consultation with them. It seemed unnecessary to completely redesign the wheel when we had something extremely similar already in place. 

In honesty, I also didn’t anticipate the code being that controversial. Our societies have on the whole been exceptional ambassadors for the Union and University. The training and the code have also been asked for by some society groups who felt that they didn’t know exactly what to do when some issues have occurred in the past, and that this would have been helpful to them. 

A version of the code of conduct was included in the by-laws consultation that happened between weeks 3 and 5 as it is an appendix of them. Anyone looking could have found it and given feed back that way. Admittedly however this wasn’t clearly signposted. 

2. Making Your Members Aware

Society members also felt they were being given too much responsibility for the actions of their members. I understand that there could be perceived to be a lot of pressure on you to respond and react and ensure your members ‘behave’ more like a teacher than a peer. 

This is not meant to be the case. The most a president can do is make their members aware of these expectations but obviously cannot be accountable for actions undertaken by an individual, but it can be helpful if an issue does occur to know what to do next. 

What a president can be responsible for is any action undertaken in a Societies name. This is where issues can arise and should actions be undertaken with the societies name that can be considered in breach of the code of conduct, the President should be responsible for taking action or knowing where to turn to shut it down. 

3. Joining Online

Another issue is that committees felt responsible for educating their members in this and felt it was a lot of responsibility and it would be damaging and a lot of work to be constantly reminding members of the code when they joined throughout the year. 

We will try to work on solutions that mean that when a new member joins online they agree to abide by the code. This way it should be seen by every member who joins and we will take some of the responsibility for ensuring that members are aware of it. 

There is an expectation that members should be made aware of the code. It could be included as a link in your signature for example:

'By partaking in the societies membership and activity you understand you are to adhere to the societies code of conduct.'

Making your members aware should not be a chore and doesn't need to be threatening. It is good in fact to have a policy of having a 'welcome' e-mail that you send to any new members to let them know about how they can get involved because it makes it much less threatening and makes your society much more welcoming. 

The code is also linked here for all members to read and be aware of. 

I will not apologise for trying to educate our members in what can be considered harassment. A key issue is that many people who mean absolutely no harm are not aware of how their behaviour can be considered harassment, and the only way to tackle that ignorance is education. Perhaps this is not the best way to do that, and I agree that certain elements could have been handled slightly better, but our Union is committed to zero tolerance anything we can do to help make that a reality is something we will seriously consider implementing.