The Students Association Council’s (SSC) decision to amend its policy on harassment in the Union is sure to be welcomed by most, if not all, of our student body.
The previous policy, which only covered male to female sexual harassment, was deemed gendered by the Council and has now been amended to include: female to male sexual harassment as well as harassment based on race, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, disability, age or socioeconomic status.
Most of the additions to the Zero Tolerance Policy are long overdue. Quite frankly, we at The Saint are surprised that behaviour targeting someone’s religion or sexual orientation, for example, was not already blacklisted in the previous version of the policy.
Whilst most of the changes appear to conform to common sense, there is one in particular that stands out. Given our University’s reputation as Oxbridge’s Scottish cousin (albeit a little younger and further north), it is interesting to see that bullying over socioeconomic status has now been included in the list of banned practices.
Its addition to the Zero Tolerance Policy validates what many of us have known all along: St Andrews is a university divided by class more than anything else.
Figures published in The Telegraph in 2014 showed that 41 per cent of students come to our university from private education, making it second on The Telegraph’s list of UK universities with the lowest state school intakes. Additionally, The Sunday Times reported that the University placed fourth in number of middle class students, as 86.9 per cent identified as middle class (with no category for upper class available).
If the statistics haven’t convinced you of the problem, then the fact that our Debating Society’s first motion of the year was whether to abolish private education (a debate which resulted in a 51 per cent-49 per cent split vote, in favour of keeping it) should. The clear divide in student opinion on the matter, and that it was the first topic to be debated at all demonstrates the topicality of the new clause.
That the Students Association has only just addressed the issue, despite obvious socioeconomic disparity and an unusually small proportion of students from low-income backgrounds, could be interpreted as unnecessary by some and overdue by others.
Those who deem the socioeconomic clause of the new Zero Tolerance Policy redundant may do so based on grounds that despite disparity, widespread bullying as a result of income background is essentially non-existent. Whether this is true or not, the changes are a welcome sign that the Union takes harassment over socioeconomic background as seriously as they do harassment over more obvious issues such as gender, race or sexual orientation.
In a town where a student’s socioeconomic background may factor as heavily into their identity as traditional markers such as nationality or religion generally do, we believe the changes to the policy are both appropriate and relevant to the University’s diverse student population.