In Defence of Snowsports

  • This piece was originally written for SCAN: Student Comment & News, but they eventually decided not to publish it so I have reproduced it here as originally written, and added any further comments or developments as footnotes. This allows you to contrast the diplomatic, let's assume everyone acted in good faith tone of the original article with the increasing disbelief of the real-time updates.

A few days ago The National Student broke a story about Lancaster University Snowsports (LUSS)—the self-professed biggest and best society on campus—and one of their recent white t-shirt socials. Photographs of members emblazoned with such phrases as Sandyhook woz bantz and Free Tommy Robinson were uploaded some time ago to the Sugarhouse1Sugarhouse is the Lancaster University Students’ Union-run nightclub. Facebook page and brought to the attention of the Students’ Union, who suspended the group and began an investigation. The photos were removed from public display.

Five weeks later, as the investigative panel was almost due to issue sanctions, BME Students’ Officer and panel member Chloe Long—in cooperation with some or all of the other Part-Time Officers—leaked details of the investigation, and the offending (though apparently censored) photos,2This is pure conjecture as I (and, presumably, most people) never saw the original photos, but the photos that Long decided to share are pretty exclusively of white students. Considering the later subtext editorial’s title and the repeat insinuations on Facebook that this was an offense committed by white dudes, combined with the fact that LUSS is one of the largest societies on campus, one wonders if she may have been somewhat selective in her choice of photos. to the SU Ethnic Diversity Committee (EDC) Facebook group.3Other members of the EDC (and friends of Long) then shared the uncensored photos, presumably having received them from Long. Of all the news outlets to have covered the story, apparently only the Mail Online has published the photos uncensored. Though they are now censored, I am told that Long used the uncensored images for a Change.org petition she started calling for the Vice-Chancellor to punish the LUSS members to a degree that Long felt appropriate. Long stated that it must be highlighted that this type of rhetoric only normalizes hate speech and cannot and will not be tolerated on a university campus and that she felt the need to to openly condemn these actions when the university won’t. The story soon grew to stupid proportions.4Update 2018-11-23: The university staff newsletter subtext also weighed in, abandoning their normally excellent standard of in-depth, snarky-yet-balanced reporting in order to froth about how …fascism in its many masks, old and new, is here on campus…, its recently-reduced pool of editors apparently picturing themselves upon the barricades against this menace, whereas the reality is rather more tilting-at-windmills. As a result, Long was suspended from her post and a second investigation will be launched into her conduct.5Update 2018-12-18: According to Long’s appearance on the BBC’s Thread Shred series, the SU investigation into her behaviour has now concluded with a permanent ban on her running for union positions. In addition, the local police apparently found insufficient evidence of hate crimes—as Long had reported to them—on LUSS’ part, and instead downgraded their actions to a public order offence. However, a source informs me that it may be Long, herself, who is at risk of being charged with a public order offence (if a libel case doesn’t get her first). Suffice it to say, Long’s appearance (some time after this whole thing was assumed to have blown over) has not gone down well with students. The Snowsports investigation has recently concluded with sanctions, as well as a detailed rebuttal of Long’s claims under the heading Misinformation about the investigation.6The Students’ Union had commented briefly on the matter prior to this, but only to say that they would not be saying anything more until the Snowsports investigation was concluded, like they understand due process or something. 7Update 2018-12-18: Whilst the Students’ Union investigation related only to the students as union members, a separate University investigation has now also concluded with fines and academic suspensions for eight students who were members of LUSS. Apparently double jeopardy isn’t a thing over here. 8Update 2018-12-18: At a planned demonstration in support of the Stansted 15 (one of whom—Laura Clayson—is a former Lancaster University Students’ Union President) this evening, Lancaster UCU Equality Officer and University academic Dr Julie Hearn—of previous entering a room of unanimous support, debating some students and somehow leaving with non-unanimous support fame—took to the stage to equate Ms Long’s struggles to those of Ms Clayson, who, let us remember, is currently facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, having been found guilty of a terrorist offence for a peaceful protest. After throwing the SU under the bus again, she then declined to join the demonstrators on their march.

This is a complex affair in which all have acted as their consciences and policies dictated. We would do well to assume that all did so with the best of intentions.9Update 2018-11-22: With the exception of the speaker at a later campus protest who shamelessly invoked the death of Anuj Bidve…as an example of where this hate speech leads, despite a complete lack of evidence that Bidve’s killing was racially-motivated—c.f. Det Ch Supt Mary Doyle, of Greater Manchester Police, [who] said the murder was completely random and without motive. Snowsports put on a fun social for their members. The SU followed their procedures once concerns were raised, whilst also protecting LUSS’ right to a fair trial. These investigations take time—it took me over 11 weeks to be cleared in a 2016 investigation—but Long et al. nonetheless felt that things were being mishandled. This led to a conflict in their obligations to their electorates and their responsibilities as officers, they chose the former and the SU again followed its procedures in dealing with the resultant breach of confidentiality and potential prejudicing of the original investigation.

This article isn’t about that, nor is it about the merits of the SU policies and procedures themselves. What it is, rather, is a tentative defence of the Snowsports social itself. One need not agree with my stance, but perhaps it will explain to those who view the social as indefensible why others might disagree.

Despite The National Student allowing that [t]here is no suggestion that the students involved harboured violent intent towards children, or anyone else, Long later claimed in an interview with BBC Newsbeat that [a]lthough they are just statements written on a T-shirt, there is no way to prove they might not follow up with actions and that they [genuinely] believe it. If this is truly the root cause of many people’s unease, such worries are thankfully easily dispelled.

What is a white t-shirt social? As it says on the tin, everyone shows up in fetching white tees. They draw on each other. Drinking tends to occur. However artistically things may begin, if you give a tosser a pen they will make tosser-ade, and the social inevitably degenerates into writing the most inflammatory things imaginable on your friends knowing that they’ll have to wear them for the rest of the night. These statements are not endorsements, just as the Rugby Club dressing as Spartans is not an endorsement of Hellenic militarism or leaving sickly babies exposed to the elements. If anything the t-shirt statements are the polar opposite, having been chosen for maximal, hopefully comic, awfulness.

So for anyone concerned that the Snowsportsers might be nascent school shooters (as Long seems to be) or National Socialists (as the Feminist Society suggested, comparing them to the Lancaster Traditionalist Society and its formidable 123 Facebook likes), rest assured. LUSS’ goals do not involve the sexual abuse of children, the shooting-up of schools nor the re-establishment of the Third Reich. They’re far more benign: basically they get naked a lot. We must not abandon our appreciation of irony and context in the rush to excoriate—ignoring context, the PTOs and news outlets are just as at fault for repeating the statements verbatim.

Mens rea is lacking; what about the actus reus? Yes, the statements are inflammatory, by design. How to justify this? The term may have fallen into disrepute as of late, but the answer lies in Britain’s rich tradition of banter—of facing the worst the world can give you with a wry smile and a deadpan quip. It gave us Swift’s modest proposal that the starving Irish eat their own babies, and in however diluted a form it is present on those white t-shirts. Someone really did shoot up Sandy Hook, Jimmy Saville really did molest children en masse and the chronically pathetic really are drawn to racist ideologies. You can choose to cry about it, or you can take the piss, and I know which I consider healthier.10With all the talk of antisemitism and won’t somebody please think of the Jewish students rhetoric, you may have wondered where the Jewish Society was during all this. Perhaps they were busy with taking an officer from the same Students’ Union that Long et al. accuse of not caring about antisemitism to visit Auschwitz.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Sugarhouse is the Lancaster University Students’ Union-run nightclub.
2. This is pure conjecture as I (and, presumably, most people) never saw the original photos, but the photos that Long decided to share are pretty exclusively of white students. Considering the later subtext editorial’s title and the repeat insinuations on Facebook that this was an offense committed by white dudes, combined with the fact that LUSS is one of the largest societies on campus, one wonders if she may have been somewhat selective in her choice of photos.
3. Other members of the EDC (and friends of Long) then shared the uncensored photos, presumably having received them from Long. Of all the news outlets to have covered the story, apparently only the Mail Online has published the photos uncensored. Though they are now censored, I am told that Long used the uncensored images for a Change.org petition she started calling for the Vice-Chancellor to punish the LUSS members to a degree that Long felt appropriate.
4. Update 2018-11-23: The university staff newsletter subtext also weighed in, abandoning their normally excellent standard of in-depth, snarky-yet-balanced reporting in order to froth about how …fascism in its many masks, old and new, is here on campus…, its recently-reduced pool of editors apparently picturing themselves upon the barricades against this menace, whereas the reality is rather more tilting-at-windmills.
5. Update 2018-12-18: According to Long’s appearance on the BBC’s Thread Shred series, the SU investigation into her behaviour has now concluded with a permanent ban on her running for union positions. In addition, the local police apparently found insufficient evidence of hate crimes—as Long had reported to them—on LUSS’ part, and instead downgraded their actions to a public order offence. However, a source informs me that it may be Long, herself, who is at risk of being charged with a public order offence (if a libel case doesn’t get her first). Suffice it to say, Long’s appearance (some time after this whole thing was assumed to have blown over) has not gone down well with students.
6. The Students’ Union had commented briefly on the matter prior to this, but only to say that they would not be saying anything more until the Snowsports investigation was concluded, like they understand due process or something.
7. Update 2018-12-18: Whilst the Students’ Union investigation related only to the students as union members, a separate University investigation has now also concluded with fines and academic suspensions for eight students who were members of LUSS. Apparently double jeopardy isn’t a thing over here.
8. Update 2018-12-18: At a planned demonstration in support of the Stansted 15 (one of whom—Laura Clayson—is a former Lancaster University Students’ Union President) this evening, Lancaster UCU Equality Officer and University academic Dr Julie Hearn—of previous entering a room of unanimous support, debating some students and somehow leaving with non-unanimous support fame—took to the stage to equate Ms Long’s struggles to those of Ms Clayson, who, let us remember, is currently facing a maximum sentence of life in prison, having been found guilty of a terrorist offence for a peaceful protest. After throwing the SU under the bus again, she then declined to join the demonstrators on their march.
9. Update 2018-11-22: With the exception of the speaker at a later campus protest who shamelessly invoked the death of Anuj Bidve…as an example of where this hate speech leads, despite a complete lack of evidence that Bidve’s killing was racially-motivated—c.f. Det Ch Supt Mary Doyle, of Greater Manchester Police, [who] said the murder was completely random and without motive.
10. With all the talk of antisemitism and won’t somebody please think of the Jewish students rhetoric, you may have wondered where the Jewish Society was during all this. Perhaps they were busy with taking an officer from the same Students’ Union that Long et al. accuse of not caring about antisemitism to visit Auschwitz.

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