Both Merton and Somerville have this week voted to increase their number of JCR reps for equal opportunities positions.
An ‘Equality Sub-Committee Motion’ was passed on Sunday at the Merton OGM, with no opposition and one friendly amendment.
The motion redefined the position of Equal Opportunities rep, and created the position of Gender Equality rep. The Equal Opps rep is now responsible for those with mental and physical disabilities, and any other equality matters, such as religious or class-related issues. The responsibility for representing ethnic minorities will be taken on by the International Students’ rep, a position that already exists. This motion also created an Equality Sub-Committee consisting of these three positions and the already-existing LGBTQ rep.
Tanvi Mehta, who proposed the motion, explained the motivation behind it: “It’s a combination of both practical and ideological motivations – it was partly because it’s hard for a single Equal Opps rep to be involved in/attend all the relevant Equality Campaigns or meetings and it therefore makes sense to expand the team of people working on equality issues.
“But it’s also because we felt that a single individual isn’t really able to be representative of the various different groups that come under the purview of Equal Opps, because they sometimes don’t have an understanding of the issues that all these groups face.”
A similar ‘Creation of Equalities’ motion was passed at the Somerville OGM on Sunday.
This motion relieved the Access and Admissions and Equal Opportunities Officer of the responsibility for Equal Opportunities. It also created an Equalities Committee, consisting of the Access and Admissions Officer, International Officer, Ethnic Minorities Officer, Disabilities Officer, LGBTQ Officer, and chaired by the JCR President.
There were 26 votes for the motion, four against it and five abstentions. It was proposed by Rachel Dickenson, JCR President, and seconded by Zoe Fannon, the Vice-President.
The original Somerville motion also argued for a new Women’s Officer, but there was a friendly amendment to remove this, and address it in a separate motion at a later date. A further friendly amendment mandated that the committee is responsible to consider equalities issues that arise from socioeconomic disadvantages.
At the Somerville OGM, an unnamed fresher questioned who would represent straight, white British males on the Equalities Committee, but the proposers intimated that such a person would be unlikely to experience discrimination.
Another Somerville student said they were “concerned that there would be nobody on the committee to stand up for equality on the issue of socioeconomic background (such as low income and coming from a low intake school) which are very pressing issues – especially at this University!” However, the student felt the amendments made to the motion resolved these issues.
The Somerville motion was motivated by similar concerns to those at Merton, stating that: “All duties associated with two highly important aspects of college life, Access and Admissions and Equal Opportunities, are currently the responsibility of just one JCR Officer. Apart from the significant work load this places on just one student, the high importance of these areas, means that it is unfair for us to allow for either to be neglected or for one to take precedent over the other.”
There was discussion over whether the creation of these new roles was cumbersome, but Chris Ruckteschler, Merton JCR President, opposed such suggestions, saying: “On the ground politics is always cumbersome. The devil’s in the detail: if you don’t think about the minor details you may have a great idea but the implementation will fail. Most major achievements are the result of a cumbersome process, so you just have to buckle down and do it.”
William Bennett, the current Equal Opps rep for Merton, also addressed this: “Of course it is cumbersome. We are talking about introducing new reps to the JCR, and the renaming, and restructuring of five or six different positions. In four years at the college, nothing close to that has happened before. So, yes cumbersome, but necessary – it would not have been possible to break down this motion into smaller ones (where it would not have been cumbersome).”