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14th May 2019

May Senate Preview: Reclaim The Night reform proposed

We preview the final edition of student Senate this year, which has been delayed a week to prevent staff burnout
May Senate Preview: Reclaim The Night reform proposed
Photo: The Mancunion.

The final edition of Students’ Union (SU) Senate this academic year takes place on Thursday 16th May and, as ever, there are some hot topics on the agenda.

A draft agenda seen by The Mancunion contains a policy proposal which, if passed, would mandate the implementation official blocs for LGBTQ+ people, women of colour, disabled people, and Muslim women at the Reclaim The Night (RTN), following the 2018 decision to only have three blocs: One for women, one for families, and a mixed bloc.

This may prove to be a contentious issue, given Sara Khan’s decision to not march at Reclaim The Night 2019 over concerns the march was “cis-normative” and the 2019 march’s call to increase police presence in student areas, saying that “the police as an institution systematically abuses women of colour and trans women on the daily.’’

Women’s Officer Sara Heddi at the time defended the decision not to directly organise an LGBTQ+ bloc by claiming members of that community had felt it was inappropriate for her to speak, and organise, on their behalf.

Sara Heddi commented: “Reclaim The Night has always been a student led initiative.  Last year I received backlash for attempting to organise the blocs myself.  This year all the blocs that were organised were advertised on our two channels both website and Facebook.

“Everyone will have different opinions on how RTN should be run and I am here to try and facilitate and support everyone but I am only one person and can only do so much. In future, if people have suggestions, it’s important for this to be communicated to me beforehand so we can make preparations. I can’t help people if I don’t know anything about it.

“Also should be noted that the Liberation and Access Officer & Part-Time Officers have not spoken to me since RTN and have had no communication with them. In short, in the words of Albus Dumbledore, help is always given at Manchester SU, to those who ask for it”.

Sara Khan and Daz Skubrich, part of the committee which proposed the motion, said: “In many ways, Reclaim the Night is a very safe space, mostly due to the incredible hard work put in by the volunteer team and the Women’s Officers – for example, this year, women of colour were very visible in the marketing of the march, and an accessibility policy was developed.

“With regards to the policy that we have proposed, we are talking less about safety, and more about accessibility and inclusion. We believe that the Reclaim the Night campaign – both here in Manchester and on a national level – can do more to centre the most marginalised groups (such as sex workers, trans women, and women of colour) in their narrative, and do more to demonstrate that they offer an exclusive space, through getting rid of cis-normative slogans such as ‘viva la vulva’.

“The minority groups mentioned in the policy would be as safe as anyone else in attendance at the march if they felt welcome to attend, but at the moment, many of them do not. This is the problem that our policy is addressing, in order to make this very important campaign can grow and become even better.”

What’s also noteworthy of this meeting is the actual date of Senate itself – originally scheduled for the 9th, it was pushed back by a week to prevent staff burnout during celebrate week.

The agenda also includes a motion for the SU to officially oppose any changes to ResLife, and another to implement a permanent clothes swap for Trans Students, proposed by the Students’ Union Trans Campaign.

The opposition to ResLife has been borne out of student and staff concerns over a proposed restructure to the current Halls’ pastoral support system, which has since been delayed by a year by the University amid more staff consultation.

The Mancunion understands that senior SU officials see this delay as an opportunity to negotiate with the University over the changes. However, the draft Senate motion outright opposes “any changes” to the current ResLife system – which would effectively end any opportunity for the SU to have its voice heard during the ResLife consultation.

Officers have since added an amend to the policy which changes the motion from blocking “all changes” to ResLife and “maintaining its current system” to “work[ing] collaboratively with the Accommodation Services, the Residents Life team and students who live in University halls, ensuring that any and all future proposals for changes to the ResLife restructure are to the benefit of students”.

If passed, this could prove to be a major source of work for the incoming Communities Officer.

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