An email in the last week revealed that the University of Kent UKIP society were ordered with disciplinary measures and a threat of disillusionment from Union, after promoting a social celebrating the First Crusades back in December.
On November 22, society leader Joe Simons received an email from Kent Student Union warning that any attempt to go ahead with their upcoming event, a pub crawl commemorating the 922nd anniversary of the First Crusade on November 24, would lead to a disciplinary procedure, potentially ending in the dissolution of the society.
The event was deemed inappropriate by the Union, which claimed the Crusader themed pub crawl was discomforting to the Muslim community on campus, especially as a society Facebook post promoting the event read: ‘Whether you’re a crusader and infidel or indifferent we want to see you there!’
Pressured by the Union and threatened with disbandment, the society posted a message on their Facebook account announcing the cancellation of the event and apologising ‘for any misunderstandings.’
The email sent by the Union insists that the Union does indeed believe in the principle of free speech.
‘We promote free speech on campus and give our student groups autonomy on how they run their groups.’
It however argues that the word infidel ‘isn’t an appropriate word to call students.’
The email also claims that the event was causing ‘discomfort and frustration’ amongst the Muslim community on campus.
It concludes that the event ‘isn’t in keeping with our values and does not promote a safe space on campus,’ and warns that if the social goes ahead they will have to go through a disciplinary procedure which ‘could end in the society being disbanded.’
InQuire spoke with Elliot Lake, the UKIP society treasurer, who explained the process of planning an event.
“We create our ideas over a couple of pints and decide what we want to do for our next event. We thought why not do a bar crawl based on something integral to our culture.
“Part of the event of celebrating the crusades was the fact that many peasants of poor English villages left their villages to go on a crusade. Regardless of how you feel about that it deserves honour, so that’s why we created the event alongside the jokey element.”
Prior to the Union’s intervention, the planned event was looking to be their biggest one yet:
“We mostly received positives from the event apart from one person claiming it to be offensive. On Facebook we had a lot of people interested in coming along, we were expecting an estimated number of 20 people to turn up to the event. The Conservatives in comparison have about 7 or 8 turning up to their latest bar crawls.”
“We wanted a subtle jab and joke… however we did not expect the response from a very slight comment.”
Though he argued that there was never any intention to hurt or offend any students, Elliot Lake also acknowledged the Union’s right to intervene: “I disagree with the thought pattern behind it, but due to their authority I accept their decision.”
The original society Facebook post apologising for the Crusader event promised that future events ‘will seek to commemorate and discuss complex key events in our shared heritage through other, more inclusive, means than a pub crawl.’ Since that post, no further complaints or Union warnings have been sent.
Elliot Lake is not angered by the Union’s intervention, and is optimistic about the society’s future, saying that “This will not kill us by any chance.”
Head of Committee Joe Simons also noted that the most recent UKIP event, a meeting with UKIP MEP Bill Etheridge, ‘eclipsed’ the Conservative Association in terms of attendance. The Union’s intervention therefore has not crippled the society, which often attracts local supporters within Canterbury and the county.
Despite any long-lasting damage, the intervention has impacted how the society will conduct future events.
“We might target different things in future,” insists Hill; “There has been a line in the sand created by the Union and we will do our best to work around the line as much as possible.”
Though the Society is therefore currently conforming to Union requests, it is yet to be seen whether it will avoid further confrontation with the Union in the future.