After the Students’ Association changed the name of their Friday night club event to ‘P.U.L.L.’ many students voiced their discomfort over the sexual nature of the name. When a petition was started to change the event’s name, the Students’ Association responded in less than 24 hours. The event has since been renamed ‘The Bop’ in a revert to the traditional name for Friday nights at the Union. However, students still have mixed emotions and thoughts about the incident.
Chris MacRae, Director of Events and Services, said that the committee had intended the name to be “both an acronym for Postgrads and Undergrads Loving Life, as well as in its abbreviated form to suggest the new club would be the biggest ‘pull’ or ‘draw’ in town.”
Yet the petition started online stated: “The name P.U.L.L. has a sexual nature that makes many students feel pressured or uncomfortable and excluded from their Union events.” Miriam Chappell, the SRC Wellbeing Officer, told The Saint that nearly every complaint she received noted that the “sexualisation of the name was a problem as it was irrelevant and unnecessary.
One of the signers of the initial petition commented that “perpetuating the idea of sexual conquer as a reason to go out is dangerous and objectifying to both women and men.” Another supporter added: “The word ‘pull’ is misogynistic and forceful, condoning a ‘lad-ish’ attitude towards hooking up.”
Isaree Thatchaichawalit, a second-year psychology student, was one student who voiced her concerns. “The name ‘P.U.L.L.’ gave the impression that the Union’s Friday night events were now intended as a place for people to look for potential sexual partners,” she said. “Because of that, some people could have thought that it was okay to be more sexually aggressive at these events.” She believes that the name, and the atmosphere it connotes, could have led to discomfort and harassment of other students.
Alice Lecointe, the SRC Member for Gender Equality, has spent much of her time recently working on the Union’s ‘Got Consent?’ project as well as the ‘StAnd Together’ workshops, both of which “aim to raise awareness of sexual consent within the student body and discuss safe ways for students to intervene if they see someone in a vulnerable position.” She said: “Encouraging students to look out for each other and become active bystanders in our community is the most effect way of preventing sexual assault here in St Andrews. These two policies go hand in hand with the new University policy on sexual misconduct. The name ‘P.U.L.L.’ [for the Union club night] was simply incompatible with these efforts.”
Once drafted, the petition quickly drew attention on Facebook and succeeded in its aim in almost no time at all. “We wanted to respond as quickly as possible to the petition as we take the views of the student body very seriously and do not want people feeling uncomfortable in our club,” said Mr MacRae. “We are passionate about representing the students, which is what we were elected to do.”
Joanna Boon, the head of the Feminist Society, was one of the first to express concern about the name ‘P.U.L.L.’ Alongside Miriam Chappell, Saints LGBT President Sigrid Jørgensen and SHAG Week Convener Hannah Kate Risser, Ms Boon started the petition to request a name change. She told The Saint that she was very happy with the way the Union handled the situation. “The Facebook event was altered immediately and they are working on getting the branding changed. It’s a shame the event was originally named ‘P.U.L.L.’, but it is great they were receptive to our criticism and took student opinion on board,” she said.
Although many people were happy with how quickly the Students’ Association responded to the concerns, a counter petition has since been launched to “bring the ‘P.U.L.L.’ back.” The original petition lobbying against the name ‘P.U.L.L.’ had 440 signatures, which equals just over five per cent of the University’s total population of 7,775 students. The new petition, which defends the name P.U.L.L.’, states: “When just over five per cent of the student population gets to make a decision for the rest, this [does] not [make] the majority feel comfortable… To make such a rapid decision excludes almost 95 per cent of the student population from making their own choice about THEIR Union.” A supporter of the counter-petition said that he was signing the petition so that “the majority can decide for the majority, and the minority cannot decide for the majority.” The new petition had only 16 supporters at the time of writing.
This incident touches on a growing trend amongst university students, who seem to be raising the alarm more and more frequently in the name of well-being. The Atlantic recently published an article entitled ‘The Coddling of the American Mind,’ which argues that, by protesting against words and ideas they do not like, students are only hurting themselves. Some would argue that the recent focus on micro-aggressions and trigger warnings is only a distraction from the real problem: crippling sensitivity and overreaction amongst the most educated, privileged youth.
A similar article appeared in The New York Times last spring, in which contributing op-ed writer Judith Shulevitz writes: “[W]hile keeping college discussions ‘safe’ may feel good to the hypersensitive, it’s bad for them and everyone else. People ought to go to [university] to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates have been so carefully controlled.”
However, in the case of the Union’s club night, a majority of students still believe that the name ‘P.U.L.L.’ has an unacceptable sexual connotation. The petition was as serious as it was effective. “If students feel uncomfortable with something happening in their own Union, then it is up to us, as elected members of the Students’ Representative Council, to take action,” said Ms Lecointe. Ms Thatchaichawalit told The Saint that she, like many others, was glad that the Union responded to student concerns so promptly. “Despite the initial blunder, it was good to know that our student representatives are receptive to the opinions of the general student population,” she said. “As they should be.”
In the end the incident has had a positive ending, one that encourages students to voice their opinions and concerns – because now they know that they are being heard.