The first Student Senate meeting of the year kicked off last week, and provoked discussions about the decriminalisation of student sex workers, support for the Welsh language in light of recent media ‘hate’, and an international student protest.
The most contested motion of the night was created by Women’s Officer’s Rachael Melhuish, calling for the Students’ Union to lobby to decriminalise student sex workers.
In the meeting, Melhuish underlined the results of the Student Sex Work report released this year, showing that “significant” numbers of students are resorting to sex work in order to cover the increasing financial costs of attending university. As a result, the motion called for the Students’ Union to campaign for the decriminalisation of sex work in order to improve the safety of those in such situations.
During the debate, it was also decided that the motion should be amended to include the provision of awareness training of student sex workers and their needs to staff members of the Students’ Union.
Melhuish emphasized during the meeting that the motion was not a debate about the “morality” of sex workers but instead about the need to improve the welfare of students involved in sex work and to improve support.
The Women’s Officer was supported by VP Welfare Kate Delaney who stated that “to pass the motion would be in the interest of student welfare.”
One senator also spoke in support of the proposals as he explained “Sex work is work. The Students’ Union should support all students regardless of their situation. It is their duty to extend support to everyone.”
He later warned against prioritising the safety of some students over others.
The argument was continued by Matthew Carroll, who reminded the Senate of their duty to represent all students in university.
However, others were more cynical towards the proposal. Madeline Page acted as speaker against the issue suggesting that the motion was not a matter that should be decided by the Senate alone, and due to its scale and “moral” implications would instead be more suited to a platform such as the AGM next week.
She also voiced concerns that support for the decriminalization of sex workers would act to distance certain societies and groups from the Students’ Union.
“This is a moral debate and the Students’ Union should not take a stance without 100 per cent agreement.”
Indeed, Senator Ashwin Anil Nair suggested the need to research exactly how many students are involved in sex work, voicing concern that students would not be willing to admit their situation to the Students Union.
It was also suggested that action be taken to address the wider problem of the increasing financial cost of university.
Despite the debate, the motion was passed after a majority vote was taken.
The second motion of the night was presented by Welsh Officer Steffan Bryn. In light of a recent article published by Tab which according to the agenda “angered and insulted Cardiff University’s Welsh-speaking students”, Bryn called on his fellow students to vote in favour of multiple strategies to strengthen support for the Welsh language.
This included formally requesting the University to hold a meeting between the Welsh Language Officer and elected representatives of Welsh speakers and Vice Chancellor Colin Riordan. The motion also proposed that the Welsh Language Officer and Students’ Union President write a letter with the support of other liberation officers to Wales’ First Minister Carwyn Jones and Welsh Language Commissioner Meri Huws.
The letter would enquire about the current provisions in place to protect against Welsh hate and ask whether such measures need to be updated.
During the debate, Jacob Ellis showed support for the Welsh Language Officer’s motion as he explained: “the treatment of the welsh language in Cardiff is the worst in Wales and the way that it has been handled by both the Students’ Union and the University is appalling”.
Although the motion was approved by vote, initial doubts were expressed by Students’ Union president Claire Blakeway, who questioned whether the Tab article in particular showed anti-Welsh attitudes or merely “personal opinion”.
This was soon refuted by one senator who replied: “if just one individual was offended by the article then it has a powerful effect on welsh culture.”
Worries regarding the freedom of speech were also introduced by Usman Mahmood Bakhari, who questioned: “What safeguards can be put in place that will not affect the freedom of speech? Isn’t increased awareness of the Welsh language a better solution?”
In rebuttal, Bryn reminded the group that “discrimination against other minority groups wouldn’t be allowed”.
Indeed he stressed that “language doesn’t belong in a vacuum. Its forms part of your identity”.
As such, the need to extend the motion to include the protection of other minority languages was brought into debate. Although Bryn concluded that the Welsh language should be treated as a separate matter as the official language of Wales, he added that he would be willing to support a similar motion made on behalf of other languages.
Other issues discussed included the need to create Welsh facilities for English speakers wanting to learn Welsh and the importance of educating other nationalities about the Welsh language to prevent the current “ignorance” allegedly seen in Tab article.
Further debates saw a third motion passed calling for the Students’ Union to support the national day of walk out on ‘International Students Day’ in response to recent changes to tuition fees and visa regulations on non EU students.
The motion which was proposed by International Student’s Officer Grace Piddington, was also extended during the meeting to invite all students to protest on November 17th at midday regardless of nationality. It was also suggested that staff be asked to join the movement provided the University give its consent.
The Students’ Union president concluded that the University’s Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan has already voiced support for the event and that formal consent would be possible.
Blakeway also stressed the importance of international students, both to society and in terms of their investment in Wales and the UK.
The meeting also saw the Senate vote in favour of a motion, created by Usman M Bukhari and Jake Smith, lobbying the University to increase the provision of free drinking water in both the Cathays and Heath campuses. The motion noted that currently machines selling fizzy drinks in university buildings are often more prevalent than free water fountains, and that water is a “necessity of life that we shouldn’t have to pay for.”
As a result, the Students’ Union will lobby the University to provide free drinking water facilities in accessible and prominent areas, with priorities given to buildings which currently do not have such facilities.
The last motion of the night brought attention to the “lack of co-ordination” regarding a decision to approve growing space for students last year.
Daniel Tucker, Ethical and Environmental Officer noted that plans to create a temporary allotment to show to the University did not come to fruition and lost momentum during the summer months.
As a result, a decision was made to publish an assessment of all potential growing spaces and make provisions for allotments as soon as possible.
It is hoped that an example allotment will be created by the Students’ Union to lobby the University to do the same in all its schools in future.
Tucker noted the success of such schemes in other universities and stressed that a communal growing space rather then individual allocations would work better.