Monday, 28 October 2013

Poppygate, and why students' unions should follow ULU's example.

Last year, Dan Cooper, vice-president of the University of London Union, declined to lay a wreath at ULU's remembrance Sunday service, and this quickly resulted in a Tory-led campaign to oust him from his post. Of course the whole episode became known as Poppygate. 

Unsurprisingly, the same thing has happened this year.

The Senate of ULU has passed a motion stating that "ULU's elected representatives have the liberty to choose" whether to go to this year's service in a personal capacity, but that they cannot go in their ULU capacity. Essentially, this means they can't go and claim to represent the 120,000 students who make up ULU, but that they are perfectly entitled to go on their own behalf. President of ULU, Michael Chessum, then made it clear that he wasn't planning to attend, and that choosing to attend or not is in itself a political statement. Cue Poppygate 2.0.

I'm going to talk about why I think it is a good thing ULU have adopted this position, and why I fully support my friends and activist colleagues in their decision- not least because Michael's already been subject to a load of abusive emails because he had the audacity to call out the farce that is the state's hijacking of remembrance day. 

I'm Irish. I live in Belfast and have lived here for my entire life. I'm not religious at all, but culturally I am a Catholic. Essentially, that means I tick 'member of the Roman Catholic community' on equality monitoring forms, because I come from a Catholic background. My mum comes from West Belfast, and my dad comes from Omagh. I was born in 1992, so I'm part of the generation who have grown up post-Troubles (or rather, post-what-people-say-is-the-end-of-the-Troubles-but-it's-actually-a-lot-more-complicated-than-that, but that is a topic for a different blog post), the Good Friday Agreement wasn't signed until I was 6 years old, but naturally I don't really remember much of the political world around me when I was that age.

I've gone to Catholic schools my entire life. And I love history- my entire family loves history. But I didn't get to learn about Irish history until I chose the subject for GCSE, and then learnt about it in further depth when I studied it for A Level. People can deny it all they want, but the reality is that British state played a massive role in exacerbating the conflict here, killed plenty of innocent people, and is still trying to worm its way out of taking much responsibility for the generations worth of devastation they've left behind. And for a lot of this, they used the military.

A few years ago, I worked in IKEA. And a lot of the security guards there (who I spent most of my days in relatively close contact with) were ex-military. I would talk for hours with them about Northern Ireland and the Troubles, and they helped make what was a menial and often frustrating accessibility-wise job a lot more interesting, and they were wonderful people.

But they didn't get to choose to do what they had to do. That was their job as soldiers.

The British state wrecked havoc in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles, from internment to state collusion with loyalist paramilitaries; and to this day both they and many politicians in Northern Ireland refuse to own up to the part that the state played in the conflict here. Unfortunately, the army plays to the tune of the state. What the state wants, the army does. Just a few weeks ago, the current government was getting ready to send the military to Syria. The people fighting wars they don't understand and dying for causes they can't quite justify aren't those making the decision to send daughters, husbands, sons, parents, brothers, friends, colleagues to their death. They're ordinary people, doing the state's bidding.

Like it or not, poppies no longer represent what they initially were created for. Every year we have remembrance services where those in power in the state talk about our military and giving thanks to their courage, whilst handily forgetting that when current soldiers often come back from tours of Afghanistan, it's up to charities to mend what's been broken. The state absolves all responsibility, or at least most of it. Many charities end up picking up the pieces of soldiers who have come home and been abandoned by those who sent them out to fight in the first place. The army are there when the state and those in power want a good few photo ops, whenever they want to use these men and women as political footballs in their petty little game, but whenever it comes to providing affordable housing, a decent standard of education, accessible mental and physical health services, and leveling the playing field in terms of equality of opportunity for these people and their families, the state hangs them out to dry. Nationalism and patriotism can result in a dangerous ability to overlook the things, or lack of, that your state is providing for you in the name of service to your country.

I'm not a pacifist anymore, because I know holding that belief is a luxury afforded to those who have never had to fight for anything. But I also don't support the British state, and by extension, the British military. I don't support what they did in Northern Ireland in the last fifty years, and I don't support the war they've raged on Irish people and my ancestors for centuries. This blog post has barely scratched the surface. Of course I do not think those who choose to wear poppies are all British imperialists, held bent on oppressing Ireland- but I also think that these conversations are too important to ignore, and unfortunately in Northern Ireland, we keep pushing these conversations away. If we are to have a truly integrated shared future, it is time to ask the difficult questions and provide the difficult answers- how can the state expect ex-paramilitaries to do this when they won't lead by example? 

Unfortunately, this is probably too contentious a thing for many people who are in the public eye to come out and say, and I have the luxury of not being in that position. But if my own students' union can't come out and take a strong anti-war and anti-imperialist position, I'm glad a students' union across the water can. 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A letter to my 16-year-old self.

Trigger; suicide, depression, sexual harassment, panic attacks, eating disorders

You do go back to school. You spend ten days in Italy doing nothing but reading books and it reminds you why you don't want to stop learning. You decide that school is the best option, for now.

But you leave, again. The frequent absences add up until you've left for (what seems like) good. You spend months at home with your mum caring for you. You are too scared to leave the house. You don't want people to see what you have become. School becomes a distant memory. You come back for a day in May and have a panic attack in a room full of the girls in your year.

You come back for your last year. And you work harder than you've ever worked before to make up for lost time, you do it because the thought of having to spend more than another year in that hell hole is the only thought worse than going back to the black depression. 

You fall in love. You realise you've become one of those people who falls in love after a few weeks. And you don't care.

You don't get into the university you dreamed of. You cry. A lot. You don't really get over it. But you know if you'd ended up there it would be doing the wrong degree, and you probably wouldn't have made it through first year. You'd probably be dead, realistically. You stop caring that people get awkward whenever you talk so openly about your mental health. You didn't care that much to begin with, but you really don't care now. Fuck them.

You give in and go to a private therapist. You won't let your parents make you go for weeks because you don't want to sacrifice the principles your family holds so close to their heart. But you go, because it's a choice between going or dying. And you want to want to do the former.

You break someone's heart. You think that it's the worst thing you can ever feel.

You move out. Away from the eyes of your parents, you stop eating completely. You start your path down the slippery slope you always thought you could avoid.

But then you meet someone. And you tell them you're falling in love with them in a smoking area of a club, and they tell you the same, and things seem like they could be okay for once. You take a chance and book flights. You start to live spontaneously. You think you might be happy, for once.

But things aren't good, and things aren't happy, and you try to kill yourself again, and then you have your heart broken, and you don't think you'll ever recover. 

But you do. 

Sort of. 

Life is liveable. Even though you're on your own.

You realise things about yourself. You grow. You are an adult. You are Queer. You breathe a sigh of relief when you discover that you are not Wrong. You are just different. But you are harassed, you are assaulted, you become used to carrying your keys in your fists when you walk home at night.

But the black doesn't stop because of your new found identities, and the depression doesn't leave just because you think you can live your life alone, and you ink the words of a poem on your arm in an attempt to keep yourself alive, in an attempt to try to make yourself want to stay alive.

And then suddenly you are twenty years old, and sitting in your bedroom alone; and you've had to take a valium to make sure you can sleep because you've spent the day receiving abuse and people telling you to kill yourself on the internet because you spoke on the radio about abortion.

Suddenly your life begins to have some sort of meaning, some meaning bigger than yourself, something concerned with thousands of faceless women who travel to the UK every year to have an abortion, and suddenly you realise that you can't leave, just yet. 

You try to sleep, and hope that tomorrow will be better. You are tired of waiting for tomorrow. But there is nothing else you can do.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

On activism.

Trigger warning for discussion of suicide, depression, eating disorders, fascism, racism, the police, medication, self harm

We're exhausted. We've either just finished a fifty-hour work week with a conference and a night of drinking at the weekend, or we're struggling to cope with the effect our clinical depression is having on our assignments and attendance at uni, or we're trying to do all of these things at once. We are planning the next protest, the next demo, the next conference, but forget to plan in a meal. We try to take care of one another but never take care of ourselves. We haven't slept properly in months.

We're fed up. We're fed up of explaining to our family why you can't separate the politics from the person. Fed up of being told we should respect members of a party who are literally taking money from those who need it to survive and killing them, fed up of being told to shut up and listen to someone who thinks we shouldn't have the right to control our own bodies, fed up of racist immigration controls and fascists given airtime and just about every decision made at the top, with no thought of those at the bottom. We are angry, so angry, that we don't know what to do with it. Sometimes we collapse, exhausted, in floods of tears, because we cannot for the life of us understand why anyone could do this to another human being. We cry on one another, we support one another, we give one another hope that tomorrow can be better. We miss the release of the razor. 

We've been arrested recently, we've been manhandled by the police, thrown mercilessly to the ground by several officers, and peers have the audacity to claim that this was somehow justifiable. We've been banned from protesting on our own campuses. We've been left in a cell mid-panic attack, and released 48 hours later. We're sick of people telling us that there's nothing wrong with the police, and we're sick of the state letting fascists march down our roads. We drag ourselves out of bed and stand as a blockade, trying to deal with the police and the fascists and the voice in our head telling us to kill ourselves. We have a panic attack in the kettle, and the police won't let us out. We go home and sleep for twenty hours.

We're counting the pennies to have enough to buy our medication in England, or we're sitting in Scotland and Northern Ireland feeling sorry for those who don't get them for free. We're hopelessly waiting for the next psychiatrist appointment, we're still at the bottom of the CBT waiting list, we don't know how to explain why we can't eat or sleep and we don't know what to say to our friends who are feeling like this too. We have enough scars between us to tell a hundred stories. We have to leave our medication on the kitchen table or we won't remember to take it, or the thoughts will come back again. Our interactions with people take place via the internet.

We spend weeks looking forward to seeing one another, to spend time with those we love, those who understand. But then we spend too much time awake wanting to die. Or rather, something triggers it, and then suddenly we've spent the cost of two return trips to the UK on a flight home from London because we didn't trust ourselves to be alone in a place with tubes and not try to commit suicide again, all the valium in the world would not shut up the voices inside our heads, and the only way we feel like we can talk about these experiences is through writing a blog on a Sunday night. Or maybe that's just me. And we worry that writing about this will make people concerned. But we don't know what else to do.

We have dysfunctional relationships within our activist circles, mostly because they're our friendship circles too, and our room mates, and half the time we work with one another, too. We have issues with attachment, we have issues with self-worth, we have a fucked up head and we don't know what to do with it, so we hurt one another. Our relationships are unstable, like our health. We can't be there for one another, because it's happening to everyone. We cry alone in our rooms because we don't want to be a burden. 

We can't reconcile our feminism with our own bodies. We can't stop ourselves developing eating disorders, but we curse ourselves for not being able to fight it. We restrict, we binge, we purge, but most importantly, we keep it a secret. We all have problems and we don't want to look like we're asking for sympathy, even when we're in tears each night because we had the audacity to allow our bodies to consume food. We can't look at ourselves in the mirror without our lip shaking. We preach body positivity, we deplore body shaming, and we berate ourselves for wishing we were thinner.

We can't escape. We can't escape because even when we have left the demo, even when we have stopped talking about welfare reforms, when we have stopped arguing with Tories, we are left in this world we live in. We are left in this place that condemns us for being ill, that hates us because we are women, that will leave us to die because we are disabled. To separate the politics from the person we recognise that one must be privileged enough to remain unaffected by the politics. We spend every single fucking minute living in this hell of a patriarchal capitalist shit hole that has dragged each and every one of us to the bottom, and is determined to keep us there, no matter how much our arms flail and our hearts ache from the pain of it all. It wants to kill us and it will not stop until we are dead.

We try to keep telling ourselves that we need to be the living breathing reminder for others that there is good in the world, that there is hope, that there is pain but that there is also art, but eventually we break. Eventually, we stop telling ourselves that, and we stop being that person for other people. We want to cling to hope, to live by Andrea Gibson's words that all they knew of hate was that it couldn't beat the love out of me, but one day we stop. We can't do it anymore. We can't keep pretending that we're winning this fight, because we aren't. We're losing. We're broken. They've broken us. All that is left to do is write.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Edinburgh, summer, suicide.

Trigger warning; suicide. 

For most of the summer, I lived in Edinburgh, working at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was an experience, to say the least. Working six days a week for six weeks for no money was difficult. 

It's worth pointing out, though, that we were one of the better treated groups of workers who did the festival. We were given £40 a week for food and given good accommodation, which is a lot more than many other workers are given. The problem is that there are a line of people waiting to take your place if you drop out, so the only people who can afford to work there are those desperate to get into the arts industry and/or those who are rich enough to subsidise themselves while they work. That and the fact that there are no unions for the workers.. but anyway. I digress. It was something that angered me throughout my stay in Edinburgh (that, and how inaccessible Edinburgh/the festival itself was), but it isn't the main point of this post.

I will ill for most of it. It was the first major depressive period I'd had since the spring, I think. Except this time I didn't have a doctor I could go to, or a mum who could help support me. It made me realise how much I rely on my parents, and how lucky I am to have them be able to support me in the various ways that they are able to. Too many people I know can't access this kind of support simply because of money or distance or bullshit like that, and when I'm myself (ie. when I'm not ill), this kind of thing makes me absolutely furious. 

When I was in Edinburgh things were bad. I didn't really have the support network of friends that I thought I had there, either. I mean, I have some friends up there, but only one or two would I feel comfortable going to in the state that I was in for a lot of the time I was there. 

It got to the point where I was making plans, almost everyday, and waiting to carry them out. I was planning to kill myself for most of the time I was awake. I couldn't tell my parents at home because they would (understandably) worry. I couldn't tell the people I worked with because we didn't have that kind of relationship. I talked to my mum about cutting the trip short and coming home early, but I couldn't leave the company without me for the rest of the festival, because they only had about ten of us working. I've pretty much lost count of the number of times I cried in bathrooms or walking home or trying my best not to when I was on a front of house shift at the venue. 

It came to a head when I rang my mum, explaining all that I could without worrying her too much, and we talked about whether I should leave. I counted down the days until I left, and I knew that I had Committee Training the last week of August, and that all of my travel had been booked for it, that I'd see some of my friends, that it was worth trying to hold on till then. And somehow, I managed to.

Before I came home, I got a tattoo. The tattoo is from this poem. The poem has hung in my room for the past two years, above my bed. I know it almost off by heart. In as far as possible, it means I'm reminded what it can't do, what it won't change. Permanently inked on my skin, it'll be there until I die. And unfortunately, I think I'll need to be reminded of this for a while yet. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

I've been quiet on here for a while.

I'm in Edinburgh at the minute, I'll be here working for the next five weeks.
I spent most of June in London, mostly with friends.

Things are hard.
Health is difficult.
I have spent what feels like every waking moment thinking about food and weight and appearance recently. I don't know how to stop it coming back, and I don't know why it's coming back, either. 

Today when I was walking to work I felt happy, momentarily, for the first time since getting here. Hopefully it'll become more frequent, or at least happen again.

The world can be quite a lonely place.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

ACTION ALERT- stop the prosecution of a woman falsely accused of prostitution who faces prison for breaching an ASBO

I've been sent this by the English Collective of Prostitues, an organisation based in London who represent sex workers. You can find their website here:

Stop the prosecution of a woman falsely accused of prostitution who faces prison for breaching an Anti-social Behaviour Order.

Please write urgently to protest this injustice to the addresses below. This prosecution is not in the public interest and should be dropped (model letter below).

To: Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions
CPS, Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London SE1 9HS

Cc: CPS North East Case Progression Team Cooperage 8 Gainsford Street, Bermondsey, SE1 2NE (DX161230 Bermondsey 4).

Rushanara Ali MP
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA020 7219 7200
347 Cambridge Heath Road, London, E2 9RA

And: English Collective of Prostitutes 0207482 2496

On Friday 12 July, 10am at Stratford Magistrates Court, Ms CH faces charges of breaching an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO) which bans her from loitering throughout the whole borough of Tower Hamlets for 26 years. This offence carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Ms CH is not guilty of loitering. She lives in Tower Hamlets -- her home is in the red-light area!

What is the evidence needed to prove loitering? “Standing on a street corner looking in the direction of several men” has been enough in some cases. So it isn’t what you do, it is who you are that seems to be the greatest proof of street prostitution. How is a woman who has worked in the past ever able to defend herself and be believed when the case relies on hearsay evidence from the police alone and is heard before magistrates who rubber stamp what the police say.
Ms CH was given the ASBO about four years ago when she was ill and not in a position to challenge it.

There are other factors in this case that should be taken into account:
Ms Hughes is the devoted mother of a three-year-old boy.
Ms Hughes is also a victim of rape and other violence. She has been attacked countless times while working but only reported one attack to the police — she felt compelled to do so because her injuries were so severe and she feared that the man would attack other women.

In the name of women’s safety, ASBOs must be abolished. They are used to unfairly target sex workers for arrest and imprisonment and shunt women around, often into more isolated areas, where they are more at risk of violence.
Protest outside Stratford Magistrates Court 9.30 – 10.30, Friday 12 July and then attend court to support Ms CH. 

Model letter:

I write [add something about your circumstances and why you are concerned/protesting] to ask that the prosecution of Ms CH for breaching an Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO) be dropped. The ASBO is draconian. It bans her from loitering throughout the whole borough of Tower Hamlets for 26 years. Breaching an ASBO carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison

Ms CH lives in Tower Hamlets -- her home is in the red-light area. Every time she leaves her house she risks being arrested for loitering regardless of what she is doing. On this occasion she was waiting for a taxi. ASBOs are deeply unfair. They are given out on the basis of hearsay evidence from the police. No-one needs to come to court to give evidence that a nuisance was caused to them. Magistrates nearly always rubber stamp the police evidence.
A conviction for breaching an ASBO could wreck Ms CH’s life.
Pursuing ASBOs against sex workers undermines safety, shunts women around often into more isolated areas where they are more at risk of violence. The Metropolitan Police have acknowledged that it deters women from reporting violence. At a time when more women are going into prostitution to feed themselves and their families, why isn’t help being provided instead of criminalisation and imprisonment.

There is no public interest in pursuing this case and we urge you to drop the prosecution.


Monday, 10 June 2013

Response to a letter posted on the Belfast Telegraph website about victim blaming.

(Response to Sue Alexander's email on 10th June as appeared on the Belfast Telegraph website)

Victim blaming (that is, proportioning blame on to the victim of a crime rather than blaming the perpetrator) is coming up again and again in the recent discourse surrounding rape.

Victim blaming is an attempt to place blame for the crime (in particular in a case of rape) on the victim rather than blaming the perpetrator. This happens in ways such as telling women they should not consume too much alcohol, by telling women they should not walk home alone at night (which doesn't make sense, as statistically most rapes are committed by a person known to the victim), by telling women how they should and should not dress and that this is a responsibility of theirs in order not to attract unwanted attention.

Women should never carry any blame or be made to feel in any way responsible for what is a hideous, terrible thing to happen to someone, and the only person who is at fault in a situation of rape is the rapist, never the victim. We need to keep repeating this. You shouldn't have to teach your daughters how to minimalise risks to themselves- we should be teaching our sons not to rape.

Aisling Gallagher
NUS-USI Women's Officer

It's time to put consent on the curriculum.

Tomorrow there will be a vote on an amendment to the Children & Families Bill to include Sex & Relationship Education in the national curriculum. If the amendment is carried, it will go into the bill.
Women's Aid and Brook are supporting the amendment, and are urging people to contact their MPs ahead of the vote tomorrow to ensure that it passes.
Why is it so important?
Currently, sex education is compulsory on the national curriculum, but it focuses primarily on the mechanics and biological aspects of sex, as well as focusing on good sexual health. This amendment "puts the R into sex education" - families can and do play a key role in educating children, but high quality sex education delivered to both boys and girls is a vital tool in empowering young people to overcome societal and cultural pressures around sex education and consent. Sex education isn't just about the biology of sex- it is important that young people learn about the societal aspects of sex and sex in relationships, and particularly about consent.
The programme of sex education delivered in schools should be grounded in a zero tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. By including this amendment in the overall bill, it ensures that schools will be given the resources and materials necessary to adequately equip teachers to carry out the education effectively.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Stella Creasy said that it is essential we teach children about consent- there have been repeated calls for it and still nothing has been done. It's important not only for young people to know about the biological aspect of sex, but to respect one another and have healthy relationships. Essentially, it's time to put consent on the curriculum.
My experience of sex education is probably quite different to that of young people in England and Wales- and unfortunately this bill doesn't extend to Northern Ireland. However, I believe it's essential that we should be pushing MPs to vote for the amendment, regardless of whether or not it affects our own constituency.
The sex education in Northern Ireland is unsurprisingly strongly influenced by the highly conservative, anti-women, anti-LGBT culture we live in. I didn't receive any sex education. Instead, we had 'social education', where at the age of 12 we awkwardly were talked to about periods and where babies come from. I went to an all girls Catholic school- the most adequate education I received about contraception was in my GCSE Biology class (and when my friend first told me about the implant, I thought she was making it up- which is funny now, but at the age of 15 or 16 with the little education I got, it probably isn't that uncommon amongst students in Catholic schools).
This bill won't cover Northern Ireland, which is already a good few steps behind the UK on a number of important issues, but it will introduce the issue of consent into schools in England and Wales and this is a massive, much-needed step forward. It means that, eventually, a similar kind of thing will be introduced into Northern Ireland, despite the fact that it will probably not be for many years.
You can search for your MP here, and contact them ahead of the vote on the amendment tomorrow. It's time to put consent on the curriculum, and tomorrow is an opportunity to do just that.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Special Advisers Bill

NB: This is a personal blog, and I speak about this bill as an individual. I'm not speaking for the Labour Party, nor am I speaking for the SDLP or NUS-USI. I'm speaking as myself, and will be held account as an individual. If you have any problems or concerns with what I have said, talk to me about them- not my political parties. These words do not reflect any political party nor political organisation. 

PDF of the final Bill:

Copy of the Belfast Agreement:

The Civil Service (Special Advisers) Bill is causing a lot of controversy. In the last fortnight we've seen a lot of immature, childish, and pretty libellous things said about parties and individuals on both sides of the debate. This is a debate that needs to be had with great sensitivity and respect. We're talking about the lives of innocent people who have died during a period of intense conflict- essentially, it was a war.

The Bill stipulates for the appointed "special adviser not to have serious criminal conviction", which means a conviction for which "a sentence of imprisonment of five years or more was imposed" or "a sentence of imprisonment for life was imposed" and applies "whether the person was convicted in Northern Ireland or elsewhere, was convicted before or after the coming into operation of this Act".

"The Department must issue a code governing the appointment of special advisers within 3 months of this section coming into operation" and "the appointment of special advisers must be subject to the same vetting procedures as the appointment of Senior Civil Servants to the Northern Ireland Civil Service". 

A number of amendments were proposed by Dominic Bradley & Alban Maginness- all of which were rejected by Jim Allister, the proposer of the bill. Unsurprisingly. 

The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 stipulates that "the parties affirm their commitment to the mutual respect, the civil rights and the religious liberties of everyone in the community... the right to pursue democratically national and political aspirations, the right to seek constitutional change by peaceful and legitimate means... the right to equal opportunity in all social and economic activity... the right of women to full and equal political participation". 

"The achievement of a peaceful and just society would be the true memorial to the victims of violence". "An essential aspect of the reconciliation process is the promotion of a culture of tolerance at every level of society". 

If we had a Bill of Rights, like we're supposed to, this Bill wouldn't hold up. Criminal convictions do play a part in some jobs, such as teaching, medicine, etc. And *mostly*, I can see why (though the fact that criminal convictions play a part in whether or not you can work in a certain sector opens up another argument to the validity of the convictions and the processes surrounding them- which is another important argument to have, not not one I'm trying to have here). 

But the peace process (if you can call it that) wouldn't have happened if we didn't have political prisoners on side, if they were not sitting at the negotiating table and actively working to end their campaigns of armed resistance. It wouldn't have happened, period. There are many weaknesses to the Good Friday Agreement, but the fact that it actually happened remains a strength. 

To shut out those with criminal convictions from becoming special advisers is not fair. We elect them. We work alongside them. If we're going to open the special advisers can of worms, then why don't we focus on their huge salary? Why don't we focus on the fact it is more often than not 'jobs for the boys', rather than the appointment of an expert in the field? To me, that is more concerning. I'd have no problem with a special adviser having had a criminal conviction if they actually knew what they were talking about when they took up the post- many don't, and that's a huge problem that seems to be too often ignored. We seem intent to shut out those with criminal convictions but ignore the fact that so many of those employed (with and without criminal convictions) are in no way qualified for the job. That's the most important issue, to me.

If we had an adequate programme of reconciliation, victims would feel as though their losses have been acknowledged. Recognised and apologised for. And we haven't done that yet. The reason that emotions are running so high amidst this Bill is because we have no process of reconciliation, we have not acknowledged the hurts of the past and it doesn't look like the current Executive in Stormont are getting any further in any kind of strategy. This is a huge problem. And again, the Bill has overtaken this issue as seemingly a more important one. 

It's a plaster covering a wound that needs properly dressed and a much bigger bandage than the one currently being offered. It'll help for a bit, but in the end, will prove futile in both the reconciliation process and any kind of attempt to foster a tolerant and just society.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Conference-gate; what next?

In March, I was thrown out of USI Congress by my union delegation (Queen's University Students' Union) for voting in a few that contradicted my students' union policy. I  wrote about it at the time, and if you're reading this having not heard about what's happened, I'd advise you to read it only so we're on a similar page for the rest of the post.

When we got back, there was some clarity needed on how I was going to be 'punished'. Again, I wrote about it at the time, and again, I'd recommend you read that post before reading the rest of this.

Last night, the President of QUBSU proposed two motions at the Annual Business Meeting of QUBSU Council (our last meeting of the academic year) to ban me from standing as a QUBSU delegate for national conferences. One would ban me for standing next year, and the second, for the following year (amusingly, I'll have left university by then, but no matter). 

The vote was cast by secret ballot, with the President and I both given the chance to make two statements each. No one else was allowed to speak on the proposed motion.

The QUBSU Council voted down the motion to ban me for the year 2014/2015 (29 votes against, 24 votes in favour) and voted in favour of the motion to ban me for the year 2013/2014 (31 votes in favour, 23 votes against). They've told me that I now cannot stand as a QUBSU national conference delegate for next year.

They can't do this. 

In our union's constitution, it stipulates that delegates to NUS Conference and USI Congress shall be elected by cross campus ballot as in the Council elections (page 38). It also states that any student may offer themselves as a candidate in any Executive Management Committee Election provided that they complete a Nomination Form and return it in person to the Returning Officer before the close of nominations for the Executive Management Committee Election (page 35). The elections for conference delegations are held in a similar way to elections for Council and elections for the Executive Management Committee (ie, the sabbatical officers).


National Union of Students (NUS) and Union of Students in Ireland (USI)

10.1 Delegates to NUS Conference and USI Congress shall be elected by cross campus 
ballot as in the Council Elections.

10.2 One delegate to NUS Conference and two delegates to USI Congress may be 
appointed ex-officio.

10.3 All Election materials shall be regulated as in the Council Elections (see Rule 2, 
Section 7).

10.4 Nomination Forms shall be of similar format to those used in Executive Management 
Committee Elections and must be accompanied with a deposit of £40, which will be 
refunded after attendance at Conference. (2007 is the base year for this amount 
which will increase annually by the rate of RPI).

10.5 The Returning Officer shall post on authorised noticeboards at least 14 days before 
the date on which the Delegation Election is to be held a notice declaring:-

10.5.1 the number of delegates to be elected;
10.5.2 the dates and times for closure of nominations;
10.5.3 the dates and times of polling.

10.6 Nominations shall close on the eighth day before the date on which the relevant 
Election is to be held.

The equality and diversity policy of the union (page 77) states that the SU seeks to provide equality to all, irrespective of political opinion, and that the policy applies to all members of the students' union. There is also a mention of a complaints procedure (but nothing saying what it actually is) for those who feel that they have suffered any form of discrimination through the use of the union's representation services (page 79). Rule 4, Appendix 1 of the constitution stipulates that elected student officers (ie. the President and the other sabbaticals) shall be bound by the University’s Student Conduct Regulations, the Equality and Diversity Statement and other Equality Policies of the University and Students’ Union (page 50). 

Secondly, there is no process in the constitution to punish someone for voting against live policy at national conferences. No process. No mention of it. And considering it takes a special meeting and a 2/3 majority of student councillors or EMC members to remove an elected officer from their position (page 54), the move taken last night was unfounded, without precedent, and unconstitutional.

To sum up, the constitution of QUBSU, and in particular:

1. The combination of Rule 2 10.8 (which says that delegate elections will be held in the same manner as elections for the Executive Management Committee(; Rule 2 10.4 (which says that nominations for delegate elections are like those for EMC); and Rule 2 9.6.1 (which says that anyone can run in an election for EMC);

2. Chapter 1 8.2 (which says that the government of the union shall be based on the democratic principle that every ordinary member shall have the fullest opportunity to participate in union affairs);

3. Rule 10 2.2.4 (which says that political belief is a protected characteristic under the Equality & Diversity Policy;

4. Chapter 1 3.2, 3.9.2 & 3.9.4 (which states the aims of QUBSU as supporting equality of opportunity, freedom to participate in union elections, and the freedom of expression);

they had no grounds to do what they did, and I'll be happily handing in my nomination forms next year when nominations open for delegate elections to national conferences.

Saturday, 27 April 2013


About a month ago, I was thrown out of USI Congress. I've written about the specific details over what happened (which are quite important to read beforehand so you have an idea of what's going on!) on another blog post here

Anyway, since I've been home, a number of things have happened. Firstly, the EMC of QUBSU (made up of sabbatical officers and union management) asked me to go to a meeting to decide what would happen to me, essentially. They'd been telling the press and anyone who asked that QUBSU Council would 'decide my punishment', but then tried to change their minds. Below are the emails that were sent:

Dear Aisling,
A Special Meeting of the Executive Management Committee is to be convened to consider the recent events at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) Congress.
I have been asked to ascertain whether or not you would be available to attend such a meeting at some point between 11.00 a.m. and 2.00 p.m. on Friday 26 April 2013.
If the above scheduling is unsuitable, can you please indicate those dates and times when you would be available during the week beginning Monday 29 April 2013?


I'm a little confused. Why am I being asked to go to a meeting with only the executive rather than in front of council?



"Hi Aisling,
The Executive Management Committee will consider the matter initially.
If that Committee takes a decision that you wish to appeal, the Council will consider your appeal and make a final determination.
Best wishes..."

I then said that going a meeting where the people who decided to throw me out would decide my punishment was beyond ridiculous and undemocratic.

"Hi Aisling,
If you are invited to attend a Special Meeting of EMC to consider this matter and you choose not to attend, this is your right but the meeting is likely to proceed in your absence.
If you are unhappy with any decision that is taken at this Special Meeting, you may appeal to the Council.
I would strongly recommend that you take advantage of all of the possible opportunities to put your side of things but, ultimately, this will be a matter for yourself to decide.
Best wishes..."

"Hi Dominic,

I've gone away and thought about some stuff and I'd like to know in advance before the meeting:

- A copy of the written procedures governing this and how a session like this should be run
- Whether they're planning to run the session with the sabbs who took the original decision participating (other than as witnesses), seeing as they're the ones who took the decision in the first place
- A specific wording of charges I'm specifically being asked to answer or offence I'm being asked to respond to 
- Who will be participating on EMC
If something were to be brought to a disciplinary committee or appeal within the university, then a book of evidence, containing details of all relevant evidence and procedures, has to be provided to the student and all members of the panel - everyone should get the same material, so I think it is reasonable to request this.



He then said he'd forward on my comments to the union president (sent on 18th April).

On 26th April, I received this:

"Dear Aisling,
I have been asked to inform you that, after due deliberations, the Executive Management Committee has decided to refer this matter directly to Council to be discussed at the Annual Business Meeting on Tuesday 7 May 2013. 
The Council will be asked to consider the following propositions:
On Monday 25 March 2013, at the Annual Congress of the Union of Students’ In Ireland, Aisling Gallagher, acting solely in her capacity as a delegate of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union, cast a vote that opposed live Queen’s Students’ Union policy when voting on a motion entitled “Engaging with the Abortion Rights Campaign”.
On Tuesday 26 March 2013, at the Annual Congress of the Union of Students’ In Ireland, Aisling Gallagher, acting solely in her capacity as a delegate of Queen’s University Belfast Students’ Union, cast a vote that opposed live Queen’s Students’ Union policy when voting on a motion entitled “Crisis Pregnancy Agencies”.
At Council the Union President will outline the case against you.  You will then have the opportunity to state your case.  Following this there will be another opportunity for both you and the Union President to speak on this matter.  Subsequent to this Council will be given two motions to vote on, detailing potential sanctions for your actions. The two options will be as follows:
1. To bar you from attending any conference organised by a national union as a QUB SU delegate for the 2013/14 Academic Year.
2. To bar you from attending any conference organised by a national union as a QUB SU delegate for the 2014/15 Academic Year.
We feel that it would be inappropriate for Council to take a decision in relation to your deposit for attending USI Congress.  You can therefore collect this from the general office on the 2nd floor of the SU at your convenience.
If you seek any further guidance please get in touch.

So, essentially, QUBSU Council gets to vote on whether or not I'm to be banned from going to any more conferences (amusingly, next year will be the last year of my degree- but it appears they think I'm planning to stay on once I'm done). 

Thing is, can they actually do this? There's nothing in the constitution about this (or about any of the mandate stuff that caused the problem, either), and I don't exactly see how they can stop students standing in elections to be delegates. I mean, regardless of whether the motions pass or fail, I don't see how they can just DO this.. and it seems a lot of other QUBSU students don't understand it either.

The meeting will take place in the Space in QUBSU at 6pm on Tuesday 7th May (as far as I'm aware), so any support in the form of people coming to the meeting would be great (and there's free pizza, too). 

The thing that gets me is that they're bringing up rules that are literally pulled from thin air. Plus, I already spent three days of a conference in a hotel room following the twitter feed when I should've been on Congress floor representing the students who sent me there- isn't that punishment enough? 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

A lot of Thoughts.

This will not be an easy post to write. I have some music playing in the background, and a glass of wine beside me. I can already feel my eyes tearing up. Mostly because I've never told anyone this before, and I never thought much about it until recently.

I didn't think about it again until recently because I never thought it was odd. Or rather, I didn't see any significance in it, if that makes sense. I'm finding it difficult to get words out, they are in a mixed up mess with a lot of feelings and thoughts and I'm not quite sure how to talk about this, or where to start.

When I was about 7, I wanted to be a boy. 

It feels very strange to have those words staring up at me. I have thought and thought and thought about them in the past few weeks, but I haven't said them. I wanted to be a boy. My friends were boys, I played with boys at break time, I liked the girls I was friends with, but I identified with the boys more. And so I told my friends I was deciding to be a boy. And told them to call me Ash instead of Aisling. And thought this wasn't unreasonable at all.

And of course, in a typical seven-year-old way, nobody else thought this was the most normal thing in the world (I've never directly talked to my parents about this sort of stuff, but I know that they have been instrumental in me becoming who I am. Although this sort of thing I find difficult to talk about with anyone, I know that they love me entirely and have been so wonderful at making my sisters and I the open minded people we are today. My mum always tells a story - TANGENT, SOZ - about how when I was about four, I was in my Granda's car when he was bringing us somewhere or other, and he asked why I only had two of my girl Barbies with me rather than bringing one of the boy ones, and I told him not to be silly, Granda, they're lesbians. And he had no idea how I knew what lesbians were. I have no idea how I knew either, but that's not the point. The point is that this sort of stuff was never odd to me, at all. And I have my parents to thank for that). The girls told me I couldn't play with them any more and that I wasn't allowed in the girls' toilets either. The boys' toilets terrified me. I'm not quite sure why. It was maybe the fear of not knowing what they were like behind the door. I don't really know.

And then I dropped it. I didn't want to be left out, I was seven years old. I dropped it and I remember feeling annoyed that people had laughed and didn't think that it was perfectly reasonable, but I got over it. But it was one of those memories that you remember, clearly. I have a picture in my head, I can remember how I felt. I didn't think about it too much. Except the times, as I grew up, when I'd be told my hair was a mess when I was playing rounders, and I told them I didn't care. When I felt pressured to shave my legs at the age of twelve, as if there was something wrong with the hair that was on them. 

What would have happened if, when I was seven years old, it had been fine? It had been fine to suddenly announce to your classmates that you wanted to be a boy, and that they just better get used to it. We didn't even get to wear trousers in primary school, never mind secondary school. I wore a pinafore in secondary school. 

This is upsetting, but the kind of upsetting that needed to come out, at some time or other. What I would give to tell the seven-year-old me that there was nothing wrong with wanting to be a boy, to tell the twelve-year-old me that taking out my self-hatred on myself wouldn't make the problems go away, to tell fifteen-year-old me that I didn't need to wear make up if I didn't want to, to tell seventeen-year-old me to stop thinking about how seemingly huge I looked in my formal dress and to just try and enjoy your night. 

I don't know how to tell myself now that the problems constantly circling around my head are, often, the result of the society I live in. It is not acceptable to be different. Especially in Northern Ireland, but it obviously isn't a problem only here. It is lonely and isolating to live in a place where your Health Minister thinks that blood from a gay man is dirty, where you rarely say the words "I AM QUEER" because you know that most people will either laugh or look confused. 

This is upsetting to write and upsetting to think about, because I usually don't let myself do so. The anger at the injustice usually wins out- which is great, because it shows, for the most part, my mental health isn't being too badly affected (in the past it has been very badly affected by this kind of stuff). The anger at the sheer ridiculousness of the lack of equality always wins out. I don't let myself think about how upsetting it is when someone thinks that you don't deserve something that they take for granted everyday. When something is core to your being, to have it dismissed, again and again, is very difficult to deal with. Of course, you all know this. You're maybe nodding your head- even if we're talking about different things in terms of the specifics, we all understand what I'm talking about. Whether it's equal marriage or the right to choose or the right to hold your partner's hand on the street without getting abuse hurled at you, it's all the same. We fight because it is how we deal with these things, and we don't let ourselves feel the hurt. We don't because we can't let them win. We can't give up, because they will have won. We can't give up because we will be on the right side of history and they will not. We can't give up because it is the fucking right thing to do.

This has gone off into a bit of a tangent. But I don't care. I used to write a lot when I was young. Stories, poems, songs, I did it all. I was that kid in school who went over the word limit by seven pages with a massive story that I just had to get out because it would be too unreasonable to stick to the three page word limit. I used to use words to just get it all out and I've only started to do it again, publicly, in the last while. I wrote my post about identifying as Queer on this blog. I suppose one thing it definitely shows is how much my generation are babies of the technological age, but you know what I mean. I don't feel the need to 'announce' it to anyone, but I feel the need to recognise it. This is who I am and this is how I feel and that is okay, even if it wasn't okay for so many years. 

I'm in tears, and I don't know if they're happy tears or sad tears, or need-to-define-them-at-all tears, but they're there and that's okay. I wish I could be at LGBT Conference right now. I am so happy that my union finally sent someone (and I know he will have an incredible time! I've been tagging him in a million tweets all week introducing him to people I want him to meet). At Women's Conference, once I got over the anxiety and stuff that I'd been feeling, I don't think I'd ever felt more accepted in a group of people before. You didn't have to explain, you didn't have to validate why you were there or how you felt or anything, and it was great. It was so, so great. 

The fact that I can acknowledge this, whatever this is, is both overwhelming and wonderful. The reason I can is because of a few people.

I first met Hel on NUS Women's Committee this year. And Hel is a fucking genius. Literally, a fountain of wisdom. But not only that, Hel is the nicest person in the entire world. I don't think I've ever met someone with more patience, ever. Always willing and ready to answer any questions, write you up a blog post, facilitate a workshop- anyone who knows Hel knows what I'm talking about. It is the combination of Hel's way with words (link to the blog), immense and unending kindness and willingness to approach every single little thing with the best of attitudes and the most positive of outlooks. I can't express, really, how much knowing Hel has made me feel able to talk about these kinds of things. At all. 

When I first got involved in NUS-USI (which, realistically, has been pretty life changing) Adrianne was there to pick up the pieces and show me what to do. Show me how to get through, show me what to avoid, educate me, lead me, tell me just how much of a fucking right I had to be there with the men. Adrianne was the catalyst to me being able to come to terms with and discover a hell of a lot of things about myself and I will never forget that. Ever. THIS HAS TURNED INTO A BLOG ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE PEOPLE. I think I've just accepted that it is a medley of thoughts..

And Sky. Sky, Sky, Sky. I don't really have the words, but anyone who knows Sky knows what I'm talking about without me even having to say it. In so many ways, Sky has done so much without even realising it. And a lot consciously, too. To have someone who is so unequivocally themselves is the best thing I can see, as someone who is really confused and not sure what the hell is going on, ever. I'm almost sure I'm not the only one who thinks this, but to have Sky as one of the leaders of our LGBT campaign in terms of NUS, is one of the best things I have been privileged to witness this year and I literally don't want to think about when Sky leaves. 

It obviously hasn't been just these people, the support and love from people like Kelley and Maryam will never go unnoticed. They have all been mentors and comforters and supporters and leaders and fucking good friends, people like this inspire me every single day and it is one of the reasons I am so thankful for getting involved the way I have this year. Without it, I wouldn't be helping people. Without it, I would probably be as screwed up as I was a few years ago. I am determined to make 2013 a year with no hospital stays, with no dips that last for months, I will not let myself stop trying to accept myself, even when it is hard. These people are the reason that I can remember to keep going on. 

This has been a post composed of a lot of things. But I am ending on a happy note. These people have helped me realise and accept things about myself that I never could have dreamed I could accept, things I didn't know existed until an embarrassingly short time ago. And for that, I am eternally grateful. This is why we do what we do. For people like this. 

Friday, 12 April 2013

NUS Conference 2013

Trigger warning for frank discussion of rape apologists and mental health.

This year was my first NUS Conference. I was a QUBSU delegate, along with five other people- four students and two sabbatical officers. NUS wasn't what I thought it would be. At all. In some ways in was better and it some ways worse. 

I'll begin by talking about one of the things I was most proud of. A mass walkout occurred twice, when a known rape apologist and SWP member took to the stage (first for an election speech for one of the FTO positions, and then for Block). Obviously some people could not walk out due to access issues/the fact they were candidates, but I was immensely proud of the fact that we did this. It was cross-party, cross-faction, cross-political persuasion, but I am very proud that one thing we could agree on. NUS made it pretty clear- we don't have time, nor do we have respect, for those who are rape apologists. They have no place in our organisation, and rightly so. I am proud of us. 

Another thing I was immensely proud of was the vigil that was held for Steven Simpson. Organised at the last minute by Rosie Huzzard, Sky Yarlett and Finn McGoldrick (the NUS LGBT Officers) spoke at the vigil, as did two members of the Disabled Students' Committee. There was a lot of anger, and there were a lot of tears. It was incredibly moving, incredibly emotional and I'm very proud that it was held. 

Now, unfortunately, to talk about the things that disappointed me during conference.

First off, accessibility. My first NUS conference was NUS Women's Conference 2013, and at it, though I found some problems with accessibility, a few members of Women's Committee worked really hard to draft and propose a motion on improving accessibility, and I definitely think that next year Women's Conference will be even more accessible. But NUS Conference was not, in any sense of the word. There were access breaks, thankfully, but the days were very long. I missed debates on motions that I really wanted to be at, simply because I just couldn't do it. The unavailability of water, the fact that there were no reserved seats at the end of rows to facilitate those who feel they will probably have to run in and out for whatever reason, the endless, endless whooping and cheering, even though this was rightly called out by chairs numerous times, was so disappointing. It was also very disappointing to see the leadership actively do this numerous times. I understand people make mistakes, but at Women's Conference, it was noticeable that any time someone whooped, they usually ended up covering their mouth and you could see them telling themselves to try not to do it- at least people were trying. I'm not entirely innocent on this either, and I'm annoyed at myself. A conscious effort by all is definitely needed if we are to improve on this- and not improving on this would be a disgrace. 

Secondly, the conscious and visible control that the leadership tried to have over the conference as a whole was not a secret. There were numerous attempts to stifle debate, and specific members of the leadership got up to publicly insult individuals, which I feel is an abuse of the platform. I'm not saying that I necessarily agree or disagree with the specific views that were expressed, just that I think it was an abuse of the platform and was extremely disappointing as a first time delegate to see, especially because it was people who I have had a lot of respect for doing so. 

The control shown by the leadership translated into policy debates that resulted in policy being voted/agreed on that I was surprised by. I thought NUS Conference would be considerably more left wing. I would say that for the most part (at least, this is what I thought), within NUS it is an argument between the centre, the left, and the further left, but when a Tory is cheered and whooped at, repeatedly, it begs the question as to what our common aims are. We might not as a conference agree on free education (which frankly makes me shudder), we might not agree on gender balancing, we may not agree on a lot of things, but I thought the one thing we did agree on is that the current coalition is systemically destroying the UK as we know it. But we cheered and clapped for a candidate getting up and insulting other members, and seemed to forget that he is a member of the party who is taking down everything we stand for. Just an observation- though I feel it is an important one.

Another thing is that I didn't necessarily agree with everything 'the left' did, either. I don't think it was conducive to anyone to stand up and call all of NUS 'scabs'. That said, as a whole I think this person made a great speech and I was very proud of her- but I wouldn't be being honest, which is what I'm trying to do here, if I pretended I was comfortable with that word being used. Similarly, I thought the Carbon Rod stuff was funny- but there were a few things in the speech that made me feel uncomfortable, specifically the bit about access. I agree with much of the speech about the demo and its failings, but I don't agree that the leadership pointing out how horrendous the access stuff was when the scuffle happened in the park after the main demo was point scoring, or anything but genuine anger and concern. But of course- some will disagree with me on that. [NOTE: I've talked to people since writing this post, and I realise it was a misunderstanding. They weren't getting at what I thought they were getting at in terms of the access stuff- which is good, because I was shocked at the time, and it makes a little more sense now. I mean, they might not like the leadership and they may criticise NUS but they're also not assholes, which is why I was surprised in the first place.]

I've always thought that within NUS we respected difference, to an extent. The people I have worked with (generally) respect when we differ on things- whether it be policy or campaigns or whatever. We disagree and we put it behind us- in terms of those who are my friends, our friendship is not changed, and in terms of those who are primarily my colleagues, our professional relationship is not changed. But this wasn't the case at this years conference. Insults were thrown about, publicly, on the platform, and that was horrendous to see. I do understand that people will not respect those who do not respect them- I used to be like that. Now, for the most part, I feel sorry for those people (as in, those who do not feel that I am owed respect). I am angry initially, of course, but thankfully I have learnt to let go of the anger because I know that the only person it's hurting is myself. I think that learning to do this is vital if you're going to survive in the NUS/student politics environment, simply because if you didn't, you would have a breakdown- keeping hold of that much anger is too much for any person to do. I feel sorry for people who do not respect things that are fundamental to my existence in that they cannot extend the courtesy to others that others extend to them, I feel sorry that they are so caught up in their own lives that they feel their homophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist (or whatever the disagreement may be on) views are fine, even though they compromise and insult the very core of the people they are disagreeing with. I have learnt to let go of the anger, for the most part, I hold towards people like this because if I didn't, I couldn't survive. 

Thankfully, I'll end on a positive note. I met a lot of incredible people at this conference, people I would not have met otherwise. Sometimes we met because we were both furious at something that had just been said or passed, sometimes we met because we just happened to be in the same place at the same time. But there were so many people in that room who are fucking incredible, so many people who work incredibly hard in their students' unions and who I would give anything to have working within my own students' union. Vonnie's speech about remembering most of our members are FE and that any attempt for our leadership to push through policy without debate being unacceptable, Stacey and Naomi's speeches about our utter commitment to giving rape apologists the back door, Thais constantly reminding us about accessibility and how important it was, Rosie's speech about remembering our trade union links, Vicki's leaving speech- her unapologetic honesty, her passion and her drive, constantly reminding us that underneath each set of political views is a person, and that no person deserves to be treated the way many people within the leadership were treated this year. 

I wouldn't have gotten through the past few days if it weren't for people like Sky and Rosie and Rebecca. They were extremely tough, both in terms of my drive to keep fighting and my own mental and physical health. I want to come back, though. I want to keep working and keep fighting and keep debating and disagreeing and I want other people to want to do the same. But I don't want to see the lack of basic respect again. I'm a member of political parties and anti-cuts groups, but the most important thing in writing this, for me, is my honesty- I am proud of and disappointed in different 'sides' in equal measure, and whilst people may disagree (and they have the right to do so, and I respect that), the least we can do is respect the fact that we have differing opinions. We're not going to get anything done if we don't accept the fact we disagree on some things, and work positively to try and change the minds of others. We bloody love democracy, we do- but I also bloody love respect and common courtesy, of which this conference was lacking entirely. 

I am hoping that next year will be better, I am. At the end of the day, I am hopelessly optimistic, and probably have a little too much faith in people. But it is who I am, and I'm unapologetic for that. We need an NUS Conference that is accessible, welcoming, inclusive, and respectful. The vigil on Tuesday night definitely put everything into perspective- and I think many would agree with me on that. At the end of the day, we are all human. And I hope we can respect that. You don't convince anyone you're right when you're spending your time yelling down other people, and you don't make yourself or your opinions look great when you spend most of your time throwing insults. 

I am a first time delegate, and this was my experience. By all means, leave comments- but if you disagree, please be respectful. The last thing we need is for the poisonous atmosphere within conference to extend any further.