When banning songs creates blurred lines

Published 4 October, 2013 at https://glasgowguardian.co.uk/2013/10/04/when-banning-songs-creates-blurred-lines/

Now that has your attention, let me get something clear – I hate the song ‘Blurred Lines.’ It’s derogatory towards women, the lyrics do nothing for a society trying to combat ‘rape culture’ and I was pleased when I discovered that Edinburgh University Union had decided to ban the song.  However, the subsequent debate causes me to believe that banning the song, like Edinburgh University did, isn’t the best course of action.

The song, in addition to being sinfully catchy, has developed the ability to divide a room. It was for this reason that the Glasgow University Student Representative Council (SRC) discussed the possibility of banning the song at their latest meeting.The decision was not to ban it, and it was argued that the banning of one song was simply a token and, given the unusual fact that Glasgow University has four student bodies, would be difficult to get everyone to agree to it.

I disagree with the reasons upon which the SRC based their decision (just because something is difficult to do, doesn’t mean it is not worth trying to do). However, after giving it a lot of thought, I’ve realised that I fully agree with the decision. I don’t think that the university, and by extension the SRC, should have the right to ban material purely on the basis that it is controversial. It would create an environment in which there would be ‘blurred lines’ between what we can and can’t do on campus.

Since when did the existence of controversy become so negative? After all, it is just the result of various opinions. People, particularly in university, should be encouraged to hold differing opinions and these shouldn’t be stifled by a fear that someone will turn around and say: “That really offends me.”  Universities were founded to satisfy the desire for knowledge and created in the hope that society would benefit from the research and ideas that came out of them.  This will not happen if we start banning almost everything people disagree on.

If contentious topics are being discussed, this can only be a good thing. People should have the opportunity to defend their opinions and should become more willing to be challenged on why they hold certain beliefs.  Let’s face it, every day in seminars and lectures, essays and exams, students are pressed to defend their position – why do they believe in something, why don’t they? Universities were built on the concept of debate and dialogue; banning a song because of its controversial content is the antithesis of everything higher education stands for.

Opening a dialogue on a topic also promotes learning – a particularly crucial point when viewing this argument in the context of a university setting. Discussion promotes an open-minded society in which people are more willing to listen to the viewpoints of others. It creates a culture in which changing your opinion is not a bad thing. Furthermore, only by discussion do you have the opportunity to change the opinions of others.

Universities or unions banning the song ‘Blurred Lines’ doesn’t change the fact it still exists and is still doing well in the charts. Whether this is to do with the catchy beat or the infamy it has now attracted is not for me to say.

The only thing that can change perceptions about it, is talking about it. After all, why are people offended by the song? Only by discussion did I learn many people don’t actually understand why we have issues with this particular song and perhaps justifiably so. When many songs and videos degrade women, why on earth has everyone got so up in arms about this one? How can we forget Usher crooning that he wouldn’t “stop till I get ’em in they birthday suits” or pretty much every line in Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.” Surely, if we ban one, we must ban them all? It’s a slippery slope until we’re all standing in clubs, drinking and humming to ourselves in order to fill the awkward silence.

Similarly, if you’re passionate about the issue and truly believe that the song is symbolic of major issues in society, then you should have your chance to put forward your argument. An argument that is normally started by the song playing. Debate should be promoted and encouraged and this is why the University shouldn’t even attempt to ban it. Hold a debate, a discussion or a lecture on the problems you think it creates and listen to the counter arguments – but don’t ban it!

Refusing to play ‘Blurred Lines’ doesn’t rid society of the problems highlighted by it. The song will still be played in shopping centres, on radio stations and in this way, the SRC is right – it would be a token effort. It also sets a precedence for banning anything from page three to lads mags on campus just because they’re controversial. Where would it end?

And let’s face it: if the university did start banning everything controversial, there will be nothing left to talk about. Having sat in my fair share of awkward seminars where nobody has anything to say, I bet that would be far worse.

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University overcharging compulsory graduation fee

Published in

The Glasgow Guardian has discovered that the University of Glasgow is overcharging students who are about to graduate with their compulsory membership fee to the General Council.

The University of Glasgow has received a surplus of 38% and 42% for the academic years 2013-2014 and 2012-2013 respectively from the General Council fee. This is a compulsory fee that all students graduating from the University of Glasgow must pay in order to enrol as a member of the General Council and also gives former students the benefit of the biannual alumni magazine, Avenue.

The General Council is a statutory body that all the ancient universities of Scotland have in place, as a result of the Universities (Scotland) Act 1858 (1996). This instituted the General Council, the University Court and the Academic Senate and it is the responsibility of the Council to take into consideration all questions affecting the well-being and prosperity of each university.

When asked about the surplus from the General Council Fee, a spokesman for the University of Glasgow said: “The income generated by the £60 fee covers the costs of the General Council administration, contributes to the production costs of Avenue and new graduate cards. Any surplus is used by the University as part of our general funds to support students and academics.”

The spokesman for the University commented further on the benefits that were available to graduates as a result of this fee and highlighted: “Membership of the General Council allows graduates to play a part in the governance of the University, attend the twice-yearly meetings of the General Council, benefit from an increasing number of varied events for alumni, and entitles members to a number of discounts including on PGT programmes, in the shop, library and sport and recreation. Members are also entitled to use the Careers Service for two years after graduating and receive the twice-yearly alumni publication Avenue.”

However, some students feel as though the fee is too expensive. A former graduate who obtained her Masters in Sociology last year spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about her issue with the General Council Fee and how the cost of it had meant she was unable to afford to rent her graduation robes. She stated: “This one-off fee of £60 is excessive and unfair. I’m surprised that the University is able to justify spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on printing and distributing a magazine when hundreds of staff have experienced real-terms pay cuts and many continue to be employed via precarious zero hours contracts. Their own figures also show that a lot of the money taken from students isn’t being spent and it’s unclear if those funds are being used elsewhere.”

She went on to state: “To charge a flat, upfront fee of £60 takes no account of students’ circumstances. Students at Glasgow come from a range of backgrounds and this fee takes no account of ability to pay. For a lot of us, £60 is quite a lot of money and for me it meant I had no money left to rent robes so can’t attend my graduation ceremony. I think the university management really needs to reconsider whether this policy is in the best interests of students or the institution as a whole.”

Meanwhile, another former graduate from the University of Glasgow spoke to the Glasgow Guardian about his annoyance with regards to the compulsory fee, particularly given the improbability of his participation in the General Council and stated:  “I was surprised upon completing 4 years of university at the cost of more than £6,000 albeit funded by the Scottish Government, that the University would have the cheek to ask me to pay to become a member of their General Council purely for the purposes of graduating. No information was supplied regarding the General Council, or even what it was. I think being forced to become a member of a club that I will most likely never participate in is pointless.”

The University of Glasgow is at this time the most expensive of the ancient universities to graduate from. St Andrews currently charge £50 to graduate, the University of Dundee charge £40 and the University of Aberdeen charge £45. University of Edinburgh do not charge a fee despite also having a General Council.

The current structure of the ancient universities is currently under threat however as a result of recommendations published by the Scottish Parliament, which argue that Scottish university chairs should face elections for their positions, in an attempt to make the highest levels of university governance accountable.

Call to activism

Published 30 November, 2014 on https://glasgowguardian.co.uk/2014/11/30/call-to-activism 

The 16 days between 25 November and 10 December don’t particularly stand out for any specific reason. Students will be starting to feel the first twinges of pre-exam panic and Christmas is quite literally around the corner. However, since 1991, these 16 days have served as an activist campaign that aims to highlight awareness about gender-based violence as a human rights issue.

The chosen dates, if you cared to research them, have a certain and potent symbolism about them. 25 November is the UN’s International Day against Violence to Women and 10 December is International Human Rights Day, linking together to emphasize the idea that gender-based violence is linked to the systematic violation of women’s basic human rights.

The theme for the 2014 campaign revolves around militarism, which is particularly apt when we consider that in 2013 there were around 400 conflicts in the world and 20 of them were classified as wars, from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Mexico. The relevance of this and its relationship to combating gender-based violence against women is clear when we consider the statement made by Patrick Cammaert, former UN Peacekeeping Commander, who stated that “it is now more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in modern conflict.”

At the moment, 90% of all war casualties are civilians, the majority of whom are women and children. From the available statistics, it seems to be the case that women suffer disproportionately in conflict zones, as sexual violence, amongst other tactics, is now an accepted weapon of warfare. This can been seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where rape has become frighteningly commonplace, and similar stories have arisen out of Chechnya, Colombia, Burma, Bosnia and Uganda, and as al-Jazeera reported in November, Darfur, where a mass rape was committed against 200 women, including 80 minors by a Sudanese Army garrison in Tabit.

It appears, even though the reasons for conflict can be varied, the tools of conflict don’t seem to be changing from region to region and even though 100 years ago, soldiers were the likely casualties of war, the subsequent development of conflict, how it begins and its practices, have seen women and children become the first victims.

This isn’t to argue that women lack agency in war. In fact, it is not unheard of for women to become active combatants, as they have done in Algeria, El Salvador, Nepal and Sri Lanka. However, their experiences in these conflicts are often rendered invisible and their lack of political clout means that when the dust settles and new regimes rise, their perspectives are often ignored.

The 16 Days campaign aims to highlight that state and non-state actors increasingly reject or outright ignore the so called ‘responsibility to protect’ doctrine with regards to their citizens human rights, with little or no consequences. This is especially true for states lucky enough to possess international power, which affords them high levels of immunity. Meanwhile, the steady process of militarization that has been insidiously developing in society has allowed for the normalisation of the belief that violent measures are an increasingly accepted method of dealing with problems. And while increasing militarization is an issue that negatively impacts men, the effects of this on levels of gender-based violence towards women is a worrying trend.

But then, we know all this, as various UN resolutions and international treaties have shown. This includes the 1993 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Beijing Declaration, and the UN Resolution 1325, amongst others. Perhaps most recently, in 2013, the Commission on the Status of Women adopted the (and I’m quoting) “milestone” agreement that the “elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls” constitutes a “global plan of action.” Well great. All our work done then.

But as the theme for 16 Days shows, it’s obviously not. We’re absolutely fantastic as a global nation at making resolutions, laws, treaties, pacts, goals and lists that highlight our commitment to dealing with these issues, but when push comes to shove, our resolutions aren’t as strong as they should be. We would often rather turn a blind eye than ask the hard questions.

Some might assume that this is irrelevant to them, a person lucky enough to be in a country where day-to-day conflict isn’t a reality, and really, what can the average person do to help? Well, it might be naive, but I would argue that there is plenty to be done. First and foremost, people need to engage with the issues, actually learn about what’s happening – give a damn, make some bloody noise. When you see discrimination, harassment and abuse, don’t just stand by and let it happen. Recognise what you are witnessing and take the necessary and safe precautions to end it. And perhaps, what might be most effective, would be to start demanding accountability from our elected representatives. This might be idealistic, but I have a feeling that if we were to all show a microcosm of the interest we show in finding out which celebrity has stopped sleeping with who and discussing why Ariana Grande went out in public without her hair in a ponytail, our MPs might just have to listen. Our representatives are lazy because we allow them to be. We in our apathy have stopped caring and instead rejected the political agency that others before us fought for.  This must end.

In essence, Melanie Joy said it best, “Virtually every atrocity in the history of humankind was enabled by a populace that turned away from a reality that seemed too painful to face, while virtually every revolution for peace and justice has been made possibly by a group of people who chose to bear witness and demanded that others bear witness as well.” So go out, bear witness. Demand others bear witness as well. Be brave enough to change the status quo and don’t accept injustice when you see it or hear about it. It might not work, but it’s sure as hell worth a shot.

More information about the 16 Days campaign can be found here or onFacebook .

Animal experimentation doubles in 6 years

Published 23 July, 2014 

In 2007 there were 22,200 animals used in experiments at Glasgow University, by 2013, this had increased to 44,579. These figures peaked in 2012, when there were 55, 578 animals tested upon.  The tests were performed on a wide range of animals: amphibians, birds, cattle, fish, rodents, foxes, pigs, rabbits and sheep. Cats were also tested on between 2006-2007.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) recently claimed that the top UK universities had been performing ‘repulsive’ experiments on cats and kittens. Glasgow University was listed as one of the universities that carried out the controversial practices on kittens.

A spokesman for the University of Glasgow has responded to the findings: ‘As a leading research University in the fields of biomedical and life sciences our use of animals is commensurate with our research activity and while numbers fluctuate from year to year, the number of animals used in research over the period in question generally increased.’

The University also said: ‘animals were only used in research programmes of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives and all work carried out adhered to the ‘Home Office licenses.’

Ultimately, the position of the University of Glasgow with regards to animal testing can be found on their website. Their animal testing policy states: ‘Research using animals has made, and continues to make, a vital contribution to the understanding, treatment and cure of a range of major 21st century metabolic and infectious diseases in humans and animals.’

The increase in the number of animals being tested upon is in direct opposition to the University’s claim of a reduction in animal testing . The policy on their website continues: ‘While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce work involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances.”