When Freshers Fair commenced last Wednesday, expectations were to see thousands of students look around and sign up to societies that interested them. The hope was that it would take place without trouble, allowing a wide arena for freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.
The University Royal Naval Units (URNU) was the unlikely group to be singled out from the Freshers Fair, and not for positive reasons. When a group dressed as clowns with tights over their faces sprayed the URNU stall with paint and glitter, it became more than clear that Freshers Fair was no longer a showcase of opportunities and groups for students. It had turned a really vibrant and positive event into an arena for negative political activism.
At Sussex we are constantly preaching that student activism is in decline. It clearly isn’t. The kind of activism that’s emerging, the kind that we’re cultivating and encouraging is the kind that was displayed at Freshers Fair. The kind that allowed extremist students to try and attack a group of people who had just as much legitimate right to be there as anyone else.
It follows in a trend of anyone that is not seen to be shouting out hard core left wing or ‘independent’ values from the rooftops is not welcome at Sussex. And while there is a majority of students that do hold leftist or autonomous sentiments, they do not represent the views of everyone at the university. For this reason it’s even more disturbing that assumptions about a society that is not a political one have been attacked on the basis that it is political and that it stands for values some disagree with. Whatever happened to ‘I detest what you say but I defend to the death your right to say it’?
While URNU would not officially comment before this issue of The Badger was released, sentiments on the stall after their encounter were understandably those of annoyance and frustration. For a group that is essentially a-political to be attacked for something they are not would annoy and frustrate anyone.
The assumptions people make from the name of the society ‘University Royal Naval Units’ means that people automatically associate them with the army and general military. The URNU organisation’s mission statement is to “educate a wide spectrum of high calibre undergraduates who show potential as society’s future leaders and opinion formers in order to better inform them of the need for and role of the Royal Navy, and to develop awareness of career opportunities in the Service.”
The URNU web site also states that “Student members receive instruction and undertake practical exercises in leadership, navigation, seamanship, maritime operations, meteorology and communications.” It mentions nothing of recruitment, war or military intentions.
We are now faced with options. We need to decide whether it is more important to impose the supposed dominant political view on the rest of the university, and do this partially by attacking anyone we consider or assume to be in disagreement with us, or hopefully choose another route. By the looks of it, what we really need to do is calm down a bit. We need to firstly take the time to find out what other groups are really about so as not to make snap judgements, and secondly accept them as long as they do not fall under the fascist banner. Hopefully the people who did this to the URNU stand will take that in to account. Furthermore, if they are proud of their actions and are willing to stand by their convictions, what’s with the disguises?