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Here Are The Latest Developments Surrounding #UoYMensDay

Following recent events surrounding the University of York’s plans to mark International Men’s Day – and its eventual U-turn on this decision – the University of York and several members of the student body have become embroiled in a row. Below are the most recent developments and statements that have been released surrounding #UoYMensDay so far.

Ananna Zaman and Katherine Mellor, Women’s Officers at YUSU, said via their Facebook page:

“International Men’s day as a concept is rooted in MRA activism and anti-women, anti-feminist ideals, demonstrated by organisers and proponents at a global level. While the university may not have meant it to be, holding this event in their name was always going to be an attack on women- not, as people have assumed, just because it’s about men, but because it has repeatedly, over and over again, proved itself to be rooted in misogyny, as a reactive, vindictive response to feminism.”

They criticised the University for ignoring complaints from students about the cuts to the Open Door mental health support team, claiming that marking International Men’s Day was a “cheaper” alternative to investing in real mental health support.

The statement went on to read: “One actually relevant point raised has been the lack of support for men’s mental health. We know this an issue, and the women’s network frequently campaigns for better mental health provision on campus. The university has repeatedly made cuts to open door, and ignored complaints from students about poor service and wait times. Presumably talking about the issue for a day of ‘awareness’ is cheaper than actually investing in the solution students groups have been repeatedly campaigning for.”

They also criticised members of YUSU for excluding them from discussions with the University regarding the event.

“After reading this list [of concerns regarding International Men’s Day], Ben [YUSU President] and Scott [YUSU Community and Well-being Officer] met with David Duncan, to clarify the universities stance, despite initially saying that Ananna and I [the YUSU Women’s Officers] would be included in any discussion he had with the university on this issue.”

“The meeting was last-minute” they went on to say, expressing their disappointment that it ended up being an entirely male meeting.

“[we] have not been given a reason why it could not have waited, other than the urgency of needing to release a statement. We find this confusing, given that the statement was supposed to represent students’ views, not Mr. Duncans’.

The sabb team then wrote their now-published statement before asking us for our comments, and then refused to make any of our recommended changes…”

YUSU President Ben Leatham released his own statement on the issue Tuesday via his blog. 

This read: “At YUSU, through our liberation networks, we actively support students in striving for equality and champion the successes a diverse and united student body can achieve. We’re proud that our Women’s Network have campaigned hard on women’s specific issues…”

“It is, however, extremely important that we recognise the issues in life and society that specifically and disproportionately affect men, such as higher suicide rates, an under provision of mental health services, lower life expectancy and homelessness. These issues are worthy of campaign and awareness should be built, but the format for this has to be considered. We know the awareness day was well intentioned but on this occasion the format and the communication was wrong. The University has agreed to work closer with us in the future to ensure the voices and concerns of our students are heard loud and clear in conversation and action on equality issues.”

You can read the full statement here.

The story has attracted the attention of media outlets all over the world, and Tuesday the Justice For Men And Boys Party Leader, Mike Buchanan, stepped in.

After leaving the Conservatives in 2009 to form his own political party, Justice For Men And Boys, Buchanan is known for his anti-feminist stance. Writing on his blog, he attacked the organisers of the original letter: “We present this month’s Gormless Feminists of the Month award to the 191 co-signatories of the open letter that sought to block recognition of issues gravely affecting men and boys on just one day of the year – and succeeded in doing so. Rarely has the award been more deserved.”

He also declared University officials “spineless” for their decision to not mark IMD.

Since the University’s U-Turn, a petition has been started to reinstate the marking of International Men’s Day. 

The organiser of the petition wrote: “International Men’s day is the 19th November. The University of York was meant to celebrate it, however they have had to cancel due to 200 people signing a petition against it. It is important that we recognise men’s day just as much as women’s day. True feminists should be fighting for gender equality for both men and women. To cancel men’s day is simply hypocritical.” It now has over 1,400 signatures.

The Women’s Officers have now, however, raised concerns that those who originally spoke out against International Men’s Day are being harassed on social media. 

Their statement went on to say: “The university did not consult anyone; staff, staff union reps, YUSU or the liberation networks on this event, and several staff members have said they were afraid to speak up against it. Many students and staff who publicly decried the event are now being harassed on twitter, and the university have shown no responsibility, nor attempted to contact them and apologise or offer support.”

Organisers of the open letter told The Daily Touch York: “A number of local, national and international media outlets have featured articles about our open letter in the last 24 hours. We feel that much of this media coverage has characterised us as being opposed to raising awareness of the issues men face.

As the open letter makes clear, we appreciate that structural constructs of masculinity such as those endorsed and reinforced by the sentiments expressed in the university’s statement are damaging to men as well as they are to women.”

“In a concerning development, we have now been contacted by a number of the signatories – and others who have spoken in support of the letter on Twitter – about harassment of varying degrees of severity, which they have received since the retraction was issued. Some have been receiving targeted attacks to their Twitter pages and to their university email accounts. These have been described by some as containing content akin to ‘hate-mail’. Others have been receiving unexpected hits to their professional web pages, and are concerned about what communication may follow. We have also received reports – as yet unverified –  that some women at the university have received rape and death threats.”

“We look forward to a full response from the university about their handling of this ongoing situation.”

You can read their open letter and statements about International Men’s Day via their blog here.

The YUSU LGBTQ Officer took to social media in defense of those who supported the letter.

They alluded to the story of a University of York student who died after being found with life-threatening injuries, for which some supporters of the open letter are being blamed on social media.

You can read the full statement released by the Womens’ Officers below.

UPDATE: 18.11.15, 19:29

The University has now released a further statement regarding this issue which has been emailed to University of York students. Here is the statement in full:

“Dear Student,

Many of you will be aware that the University has been the subject of online comment in recent days around the withdrawal of the Equality & Diversity Committee’s statement to mark International Men’s Day (19 November).  The University has already acknowledged that the statement caused distress to some members of the University community and has apologised for this.

We welcome open and respectful debate on all issues, but over the last few days the nature of that debate in social media has resulted in a distortion of, and distraction from, the core equality issues that the University is seeking to highlight.

Our intention throughout has been to raise awareness of gender equality issues as part of our work to address all nine protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act.  The focus of this work has been and will remain the inequalities faced by women, and in particular the under-representation of women in the senior academic and managerial ranks.

At the same time, where appropriate we will continue to raise other gender equality issues; one example of these is the comparative reluctance of men to access mental health provision as and when they need it.

The University’s overriding goal is to ensure that every member of the University community is treated with dignity and respect.  We ask all staff and students to abide by this.”

UPDATE: 19.11.15, 13:07

YUSU President Ben Leatham has released a second statement via his official, public Facebook page regarding the debate:

“In the last couple of days the withdrawal of the Equality & Diversity Committee’s statement to mark International Men’s Day has sparked an intense and emotional debate and highlighted some very important issues including mental health and equality. Debate is welcome and necessary as a catalyst for change. These issues and how to approach them can be divisive and people naturally feel strongly and want to express their views. Our own full and part time officer team have disagreed at times throughout the discussion this week. Despite any disagreement we might feel, we are 100% committed and united on these points: 

1.) Debate can be healthy but the level of harassment taking place on all social media platforms has become personal, dangerous and is completely and utterly unacceptable.

2.) The recent death of a student has become ammunition in political point scoring. This is insensitive, disrespectful and extremely distasteful. Please allow family and friends to grieve in peace.

Students of York can and should be better than this. Remember the impact your words and actions can have on others. Be principled and respectful.”

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