BREAKING: Peterhouse students call for CUSU affiliation referendum

Sam Harrison 28 May 2016

Students at Peterhouse have written to their JCR committee requesting a referendum on its affiliation with CUSU.

The original letter, so far signed by 17 Peterhouse undergraduates, alleges that “CUSU has failed to adequately address the pervasive issues of anti-semitism in the NUS by spearheading the campaign against disaffiliation in the recent referendum” and accuses the student union of having “dismissed the concerns of Jewish students and failed to acknowledge the harmful language used by Malia Bouattia.”

It goes on to say that affiliation with CUSU would imply “tacit consent” to this policy.

TCS has reached out to CUSU President Priscilla Mensah for comment. 

However, it also expresses wider concerns with the conduct of CUSU, which it argues is regarded as “undemocratic and dysfunctional” by students. In particular, it highlights the behaviour of CUSU officials during recent meetings of the union’s Council, who it claims “silenced” contributors to the discussions.

Peterhouse JCR President Frances Hawker has not yet responded to questions over whether she will support the motion and when an open meeting and potential ensuing referendum could be held.

Among the letter’s other objections to CUSU are alleged lack of transparency and disingenuity during the referendum on NUS affiliation; its mismanagement of its decision to discontinue the print edition of TCS; its slow response to a controversy arising from the trading of prescription drugs between female students; and its failure to prevent associates from sending “abusive and vitriolic messages” to multiple members of Peterhouse.

The letter also sets out its plans for a disaffiliated Peterhouse JCR, which it claims could manage its own access and welfare programmes, and would benefit from the lifting of its obligation to pay affiliation fees to CUSU.

Anticipating CUSU rebuttals, it argues that campaigns within the university will not be adversely affected by the decision, on grounds that “serious campaigning movements in Cambridge… have all been grassroots”. It asserts that disaffiliation would put pressure on CUSU to reform.

Eloise Davies, a signatory of the letter, commented "We are deeply disappointed by CUSU's handling of the NUS anti-semitism scandal. This comes on top of longer term concerns about the organisation's incompetence and demands urgent action".

In a pre-referendum survey by Varsity, 77% of Peterhouse students wished to disaffiliate from the NUS. The advocates of disaffiliation will make their case in a forthcoming open meeting.

Currently, Gonville and Caius and Corpus Christi colleges are disaffiliated from CUSU. If a college JCR disaffiliates, students in the college remain members of CUSU.

The wording of the letter has since been amended to read: "We believe CUSU has let down Jewish students, and failed to take an active role in defending them from alleged anti-Semitic events, such as the recent harmful language used at the NUS Conference.

It is true that CUSU sabbatical officers sent a letter to the NUS condemning anti-Semitism – but it must be remembered that this became obligatory following a vote at CUSU council on May 2. Moreover, it is possible to cite one sabbatical officer who wrote a widely shared Facebook status advancing all the positives of the NUS while failing to address the concerns of Jewish students and indeed all those who are offended by racism in all its forms. We believe this is an issue that demands we voice our refusal to accept prejudice in any form."