Kent Union is under pressure from University of Kent students to scrap its ‘fancy dress guidelines’, after an e-petition surfaced online calling for the proposals to be jettisoned.
UKC Liberty Union, a new society focusing on ideas of freedom and discussions on campus, started the petition last week on Change.org calling to ‘Overturn Kent’s proposed SU fancy dress ban’.
The petition reads: ‘We are opposed to the ridiculous nature of the bans on dressing like a ‘Tory’, like a ‘Chav’, as a cowboy, as a Native American etc., as proposed by Kent Union.
‘Also, we do not condone the overtly one-sided religious nature of some of the dress code restrictions. At this University we must protect the separation of religion and institution, whereas, at the same time, we must defend the freedom of religion of each and every one of our fellow students.
‘Whilst Kent Union’s intentions may have been well-meaning, banning outfits are steps in the wrong direction. The authors of this petition consider dressing how you want a fundamental of the freedom of expression, which falls under the freedom of speech, and would not normally endorse things banned.
‘However, it must be stated clearly and unambiguously that this petition does not oppose the bans on dressing as a Nazi officer or blacking up, both of which we agree are highly distasteful and effectively hateful. Yet the conflation of rights to a ‘safe space’ and dressing like a Mexican or a cowboy is where the policy becomes delusional and absurd.
‘Will someone unaware of the ban who chooses to dress up as a cowboy be punished and accused of racism or bigotry - a potentially very damaging and smearing accusation?
‘We, the students, are not made of snow.’
Students have commented on the change.org page that their union is ‘out of touch with reality’ and has ‘no right to govern how we have fun amongst ourselves on campus’.
Sophia Christodoulou wrote: ‘This is actually ridiculous. How does a chav even dress anyway? And why can’t I be Pocahontas if I want to? She was my fave.’
The petition has already garnered more than 370 signatures at the time of writing and every registered Kent Union politics society on campus – Conservative, Labour, Young Liberals, UKIP, Greens, Palestinian and Marxist– are against the motion.
The news of the petition’s momentum resulted in UKC Liberty Union being interviewed by national media outlets, such as The Times and BBC.
UKC Liberty Union, UKIP Society and the Young Liberals caught up with InQuire to talk about the ‘inconstancies’ of the guidelines and how Union are acting hypocritically when it comes to causing offense.
Tom Colsey, UKC Liberty Union President told InQuire: ‘These places should be centres for academic freedom. When you come to university you should not be protected and isolated, you should instead be uncomfortable and constantly challenged.
‘All of us here did choose to go to this university…where we [now] see it being ridiculed for stupid policies by the student union.
‘They are conflating that dressing up as a Nazi is the same as dressing up as a cowboy.
‘The policy is inconsistent. It bans dressing up as Mohammad (peace be upon him), but Guru Nanak, Moses, Jesus, all religious figures else are completely fine.
‘The guidelines also say that students are not allowed to dress as a Tory, yet with this somehow dressing up as a socialist or communist is fine and not on the banned list.
Colsey went on to add: ‘It is also seen that the Union may be accused cultural appropriation themselves given that every year they hold Octoberfest, which is a clear exaggeration of Bavarian culture which has nothing to do with modern day Bavaria.
‘This is not in line with Kent Union’s own ideals of being inclusive given that the Union is pandering to one religion’s political or cultural demands.’
Members from inside Kent Union have labelled the national headlines calling the proposals a ‘ban’ misleading, with the guidelines only serving as recommendations to students on campus.
Colsy said that ‘maybe they [the media] have been alarmist because they need stories” and Simons noted that the Union would still be able to use the guidelines as a possible way to possibly bully societies if a single one of their members breaks the rules outlined in the document.
‘[The union] are just trying to nanny students into what they should behave like, whereas we are adults, we are studying serious degrees, there should be a degree of trust that we won’t dress as Nazis.’
Secretary Christopher Barnard said that the whole event ‘might be a bit of an overreaction, but at the same time, with perception nowadays, it is almost seen as fact’.
Barnard said that Kent Union should be focusing on issues the matter most to students and not just the Union as a whole.
Both Barnard and Colsy also represent Students For Liberty (SFL), an international student organisation that stands up for the value of liberty and personal freedom.
Barnard said: ‘SFL has been highly supportive of our motion, and we hope to make issues like this become more prominent as part of our fight for liberty’.
Another critic of the policy, Joe Simons, who is President of the UKIP Society, wants to remind people that this is not the first time Kent Union has been in the national news for all of the wrong reasons.
Simmons recited how in 2016, Kent Union used Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan as its key figures during Black History Month and how the Union threatened to shut UKIP Society down because of their social event commemorating the Crusades.
When asked about the nature of offensive costume choices, Simmons noted: ‘Costumes aren’t inherently racist, you do need to look at [costume ideas] on a case by case basis. If the Gulbenkian decided to put on a production of Mel Brook’s The Producers, you would have to have people dressed as Nazis, but that is not inherently hateful.
‘If you have these strict guidelines that is immediately counted as hateful when it clearly isn’t.’
Freddie Manson, President of the Young Liberal Society, added: ‘Students who use costumes to cause offence, I have no respect for and I don’t think they deserve to wear whatever they want.
‘However, it is an extremely slippery slope banning any type of fancy dress given the broad way the guidelines can be interpreted.’
In response to the petition, Kent Union student trustee Lily Dedman said that if the petition were to be put into place, then it would have to be done through Kent Union’s ChangeIt Idea webpage.
She said: ‘If you get 200 signatures, then the Union has to implement it in their policy.’