Censorship is the suppression of information or media deemed to be unsuitable by the authority that engages in the censorship (the censor). Censorship usually relates to the regulation of literature, the press, radio, television and other media.
Censorship is often justified with the need to protect individuals’ or groups’ welfare, the need to prevent the distribution of obscene material (e.g. the censorship of pornography) or improper language (e.g. the censorship of swearing in daytime television), or in the case of legal proceedings (e.g. the censorship of libel).
Critics of censorship may argue that censorship contradicts the freedom of the press, or that censorship prevents intelligent discussion of important ideas and norms that are considered sensitive to individuals, groups or society as a whole.
The constitution is the document which outlines the way in which the University of York Students’ Union should operate. It specifies the purpose and aims of the union, namely to promote the interests of students at the University of York. The constitution makes clear the powers of the students’ union, and also provides guidance on an array of topics such as referenda and who counts as a member of the union. It also aims to ensure that the students’ union is run democratically, and works in cooperation with the university itself. In addition to the constitution there are a number of by-laws, which explain students’ union’s rules on a number of different issues, from elections to accountability.
Reforms to the constitution were announced in Week 6 of the Spring Term, 2017.
A content warning, or content notice (short-form, CW), is a form of notification that precedes material covering themes, ideas or events that may cause distress to the reader. Content warnings are used in many forms of media, for example warning television watchers that ‘the following programme contains strong language and violence’ or warning Internet users that the site they are about to access features material that is ‘not safe for work.’ A content warning is often considered a variation of a trigger warning (see below) and used on many online forums in this way.
“freedom of speech”
The right to express one’s opinions and ideas without the interference of an authority, such as censorship or attempts at retaliation. The term ‘freedom of expression’ is sometimes used, which also includes ‘seeking, receiving and imparting information’. The right to freedom of expression is recognised as a human right as in Universal Declaration of Human Rights & International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Freedom of speech can be subject to restrictions, such as in cases relating to libel, incitement or non-disclosure agreements.
“full-time officer / Sabbatical officers”
Full-time officers are individuals elected to work at the students’ union in paid sabbatical positions; this is in contrast to part-time officers who hold their position while continuing their academic studies.
There are five full-time officer positions: Union President, Academic Officer, Student Activities Officer, Community & Wellbeing Officer, and York Sport President. Students have the opportunity to elect a new team of full-time officers every academic year, and successful candidates assume their positions on the first day of the first month after the end of the academic year. The term of office for full-time officers lasts one calendar year.
While each of the five full-time officer positions comes with a particular set of responsibilities and duties, there are a number of collective duties that all full-time officers must fulfill. For example, full-time officers are expected to uphold and implement the constitution, and represent the interests of all members of the students’ union.
A hustings is a meeting at which candidates are given the opportunity to promote themselves ahead of an election. Ahead of the 2017 YUSU elections the students’ union are hosting a ‘Hustings Week’, starting on the 13th of February, which will include radio interviews with candidates and a debate between candidates for full-time Officer positions.
Liberation networks represent and support historically oppressed and/or disadvantaged communities. They might also campaign to challenge prejudice and tackle the difficulties these communities face.
The Media Charter is the document regulating the operation of student media at York. The charter covers every student media society that receives funding and support from YUSU; this includes University Radio York and York Student Television as well as print outlets such as Nouse and York Vision. The charter outlines the relationship between YUSU employees and student media, stating that coverage of employees is only allowed in exceptional circumstances, with the agreement of the President and YUSU Senior Management.
All print media societies are required to provide copies of their publications to an appointed member of YUSU staff before they go to print, so as to minimise the possibility of incurring legal liability. When legal risk is identified by that member of staff, the article in question must be altered or removed from the publication. YUSU may also prevent the publication of any article which could pose a threat to the welfare of its members. The charter also advises media societies to consider the ethical implications of their publications and broadcasts.
The term ‘micro-aggression’ is used to refer to subtle, often subconsciously delivered statements or actions, which are directed at members of a minority or oppressed group. Something is considered a micro-aggression if it is rooted in prejudice or stereotypes.
“the National Union of Students (NUS)”
The National Union of Students (NUS) is a collective of students’ unions, working together with the aim of furthering the interests of students across the United Kingdom. YUSU is currently affiliated with the NUS, although some students have criticised the NUS and have campaigned for York to disaffiliate.
This year four delegates will be sent to the NUS national conference, along with the YUSU president. At the national conference delegates can put forward and vote on policy motions, review the NUS’ work in the previous year, and elect a new leadership.
The NUS campaigns on a number of issues that affect students. For example, the Liber8 Education campaign identifies eight target areas where action is needed, from mental health services to tuition fees. Other campaigns have focused on issues such as voter registration among students, and combatting the Prevent strategy.
In recent years the NUS has faced increasing criticism, with students in universities across the UK campaigning for disaffiliation. Some argue that the NUS is anti-democratic, as its leadership is elected by students’ union delegates rather than by individual members. Others have accused the current leadership of anti-semitism. In 2016 a referendum on York’s affiliation with the NUS was brought forward, and students voted to remain affiliated.
No-platforming is the practice or policy of excluding certain groups, individuals or ideologies from events and debates, usually on campus. No-platforming originates from a National Union of Students (NUS) policy which sought to deny certain groups or individuals deemed to be fascist the right to a platform and to prevent any NUS officers from sharing a platform with them. To date, six organisations, including the British National Party and the English Defence League, are proscribed by the NUS.
Proponents of no-platforming argue that some ideologies are morally repugnant and make people uncomfortable and that denying them the opportunity to be heard prevents their publicity, indirect endorsement and legitimisation. Opponents of no-platforming argue that no-platforming is a violation of the principle of free speech and that it would be better for unpopular opinions to be voiced publicly to enable them to be publicly exposed and criticised.
The relationship between free speech and no-platforming is up for debate. Some argue that deliberately excluding people and their beliefs from public events is a form of censorship, whereas others believe that the right to freedom of speech is not equivalent to the right to have a platform and that speakers banned from one place are free to voice their opinions in plenty of other places.
Prevent is a counter-terrorism strategy that aims to combat the ideological aspects of radicalisation and extremism. The strategy is intended to deal with all forms of extremism, although it has been accused of disproportionately focusing on members of the Muslim community. The role of Prevent in schools and universities has been especially controversial, as educators are required to identify vulnerable students and report potential cases of radicalisation. The National Union of Students has stated that it will not cooperate with the Prevent strategy, and encourages students and students’ unions to campaign against the strategy.
“the Policy Review Group”
The Policy & Review Group (PRG) are responsible for a number of different issues, from reviewing the policy process at the students’ union, to ensuring that full-time and part-time officers fulfil their roles properly. The PRG reviews policy motions and has the power to hold elected officers to account. It also ensures that policies are created in a transparent and fair way.
The PRG is chaired by the Policy Coordinator, who is elected by students each year during Spring term. The Policy Coordinator chairs referendum debates, as well as the students’ union’s annual general meeting. Other members of the PRG are chosen by a group including the Policy Coordinator, the YUSU president, and a member of each campaign network.
PRG meetings are open to all students, and it is the responsibility of the PRG to make summaries and reports of their activities available to students.
Part-time officers are elected to serve while continuing with their studies. Unlike full-time officers, the term of office for part-time officers begins on the final day of spring term and lasts for one calendar year. It is possible for multiple individuals to hold part-time officer positions simultaneously, as long as they campaign together and are effectively treated as a single candidate.
There are currently nine part-time officer positions. These are:
- Disabled Students’ Officer(s)
- Environment and Ethics Officer(s)
- International Officer(s)
- LGBTQ Officer(s)
- Mature Students’ Officer(s)
- BME Students’ Officer(s)
- RAG Officer(s)
- Volunteering Officer(s)
- Womens’ Officer(s)
A quorum is a minimum number of participants in a meeting, election, referendum or similar situation for the decisions of such situations to be considered valid. For example, the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) requires a quorum of 5% of the membership to participate in a referendum or election for the results to carry through. Elections that are held without the minimum participation are seen as illegitimate and the results are usually ignored.
A referendum is a vote focused on a particular topic. At the University of York, every student is entitled to vote in referenda. Previous referenda at York have asked students to vote on matters such as NUS membership and the boycotting of goods from Israeli settlements in Palestine.
YUSU differentiates between two kinds of referendum: ordinary and extraordinary. In the case of an ordinary referendum, it is the Policy & Review Group (PRG) that decides which policy motions should be put to a popular vote. Campaigning can only begin once members of both campaign teams have been briefed about the rules of campaigning. It is also the PRG’s responsibility to organise an open debate ahead of the referendum, at which both sides have the opportunity to put their case across to students.
An extraordinary referendum can only be called by the Officer Group – which comprises all full-time and part-time elected officers – at the request of students. Extraordinary referenda take place over a shorter timeframe than ordinary referenda, and do not require formal campaign coordinators.
The Union President provides leadership to the students’ union and its members, and is ultimately responsible for the union’s functioning and reputation. It is also up to the President to ensure that the democratic process is upheld at the students’ union, and that the policy is made fairly and inclusive. The President also leads the Officer Group – made up of all part-time and full-time officers – and chairs the Board of Trustees.
The Academic Officer represents students on all matters relating to their studies, liaising with the university to ensure that students receive a high standard of education. In addition to this, the Academic Officer must also ensure that students are represented within individual departments, and can organise campaigns centered around matters related to students’ academic experiences at York.
The Activities Officer deals with matters relating to extracurricular activities. This means that the Activities Officer must work closely with societies, acting as chair of the Societies Committee overseeing the process by which societies become ratified. It is also the responsibility of the Activities Officer to strengthen student participation in extracurricular activities, and to ensure that extracurricular activities are open to everybody.
“Community and Wellbeing Officer”
It is the responsibility of the Community & Wellbeing Officer to represent students’ interests regarding welfare on campus, in the local community, and nationally. The Community & Wellbeing Officer must also work with college wellbeing representatives to help meet the needs of students, in addition to working with groups such as Nightline who provide support to students. The Community & Wellbeing Officer should also work to ensure that students are provided with information about their rights.
“York Sport President”
The York Sport President works to encourage participation in sport of campus. They are also responsible for pushing for the development of sporting facilities at York, and for ensuring that these facilities are accessible to all students.
The term ‘safe spaces’ does not currently have a single definition. It can indicate an environment where hate-speech and harassment are not tolerated. It can also refer to spaces where members of marginalised groups can come together.
The Senate directs the academic work that takes place at the University. It meets four times a year, and has a large and varied membership. Members includes (but is not limited to) heads of academic departments, the Vice-Chancellor, a number of elected academics, as well representatives from the students’ union. Individuals are elected to the Senate by academic staff at the University.
A students’ union, or a student guild or association, is an organisation created and intended to represent the educational and social interests of students at a university. Most students’ unions in the UK receive their own premises and funding. Unions lead campaigns for the improvement of students’ experiences at university and also provide opportunities for social endeavours, volunteering and sport. Most student unions are tied to the National Union of Students (NUS).
Most students are automatically made members of their students’ unions upon their first arrival at their university. Students may voluntarily resign their membership of their students’ union and continue to use the union’s facilities, as students’ unions work for the benefit of all students rather than union members, but are not invited to union events and are not able to participate in union referenda or elections.
The University of York Students’ Union (YUSU) is the body which aims to represent students at York, promoting their interests and providing them with extracurricular activities. YUSU represents students whenever dealing with the University of York itself, or with any other organisation. Every student at York becomes a member of the students’ union, although individuals can opt out of becoming a member by informing the University.
A transparent organisation is open about the way in which it is run. This enables others to be more effective in holding that organisation to account. For instance,YUSU requires that documents relating to students (such as the constitution) are easily accessible with both electronic and physical copies available. In addition to this, no document or piece of legislation is enforceable until it is made publically available. This prevents students from being subjected to rules they could not have known about. Measures such as these help students to be better informed about the workings of the union, and enable them to scrutinise the union’s behaviour.
A trigger warning is a statement preceding material that may cause emotional distress or panic to the reader. Trigger warnings are similar to content warnings, but are intended for the benefit of readers who may suffer extreme stress, distress or even panic attacks provoked by the content of articles, videos and other media. Trigger warnings also cover things such as racism, sexism, misogyny, rape and sexual violence.
Supporters of trigger warnings argue that warnings are designed to ensure students suffering from pre-existing psychological problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are protected from texts that may cause panic attacks or worsen their mental state.
Critics of trigger warnings argue that by turning students away from controversial material, they perpetuate students’ fears and traumas, giving students no opportunity to overcome their fears. There is no definitive list of things that could be considered triggering.