What do the liberation campaigns do?
Liberation campaigns play vital roles in students’ unions and within NUS-USI. Their roles include, but are not limited to:
Having liberation officers on a students’ union exec or council, or on NUS-USI REC, ensures that the voices of oppressed groups of people can be heard. It is also sometimes explained as a way of taking steps to redress the balance in society – whereby progressive organisations actively seek the involvement and opinions of students in marginalised groups.
A key area of all liberation officers’ responsibilities – nationally and locally – is to run campaigns to win changes for students in liberation groups and to make their lives better. These campaigns are extremely varied (because sexism, racism, homophobia and disablism occur in every area of society); from health issues, to problems with course syllabuses, to fighting course closures or crèche closures, and, of course, fighting the discriminative agenda that exists in Stormont e.g. the conscience clause
Liberation officers often get involved in, or initiate, welfare campaigns that are linked to the oppression of their group, or that are especially applicable to their group. For example, many women’s officers run breast cancer campaigns, and raise money for local women’s refuges. In this way, liberation officers in students’ unions can be great assets to the union’s welfare campaign – after all there’s always something more we can do for our students’ welfare.
Liberation groups and safe space
Officers locally often run liberations groups (Women’s Group, Disabled Students’ Group, LGBT Group, Pride, Anti-Racism Group etc). These groups can help to run campaigns, discuss issues of importance to them, and increase the involvement of people from these groups within the union. It is also important that people in liberation groups have access to safe spaces – where they know that they will not be discriminated against – and campus groups/societies sometimes provide this too.
What is autonomy?
Autonomy is absolutely crucial to any liberation campaign. Autonomy in liberation is the idea that oppressed or disempowered groups of people organise for themselves. For example, a disabled students’ group is better placed to make decisions on their budget, or on a paper for the university on accessibility, than the union exec.
Self-defining sometimes goes hand in hand with the term autonomy. Many autonomous campaigns rely on people ‘self-defining’ into liberation categories (ie if a student considers themselves to be an LGBT student then they are). Autonomous liberation campaigns, in practice, operate something like this:
All of the NUS-USI liberation campaigns hold autonomous conferences, where only people in their respective liberation groups are eligible to attend the relevant conference. As such, liberation officers are only accountable to those students in their liberation group. These conferences also elect the liberation officers, and the committees, and discuss and pass policy.
In the spirit of autonomy, NUS-USI have closed elections for their liberation officers – that is elections where only people in the respective liberation groups can vote for the various officers. This is because we believe that students in liberation groups should have control over their campaigns. For example, we believe that students who are men, should not be able to elect the women’s officer.
Some closed events
Some, not all, liberation events are ‘closed events’ – ie only people who define within the campaign may attend. These events are not designed to prevent men from campaigning against sexism, or to prevent a heterosexual student from campaigning against homophobia. Rather, they are there to ensure that at least some events are held in a ‘safe space’ – one where people can fully take part without fear of intimidation or discrimination. It is important to remember that the liberation campaigns are made up of students who are consistently oppressed within society, and closed events are a way to make sure that they can participate in their own liberation campaign. In general, not all events are closed.