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Attack on Freedom of Assembly

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?

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4 Comments

  1. Judith,

    Your article is well put together and addresses both sides of the political perspectives in relation to this incident, which I am only now finding out about. I had heard internally about some sort of ‘incident’ with the URNU, but did not know the details.

    However, I’m afraid to say that you also illustrate a great naivety in relation to the URNU, what they stand for and what the ulterior reason is for their recruiting of students. I myself was part of a University Air Squadron with the RAF and part of that was a society officially approved and recognised by the Student Union, similarly to the URNU.

    Whilst I corroborate your statement and the URNU’s mission on their site that their society builds invaluable skills in life alongside specific development within navigation, meteorology and so on – it is ALL ABOUT the Royal Navy finding and potentially choosing candidates for NCO’s or a Commission into the Royal Navy following graduation from University.

    It is definitely the case that some undergraduates would already have arrived at the university already involved with the Royal Navy, may be being sponsored by them or have already been along for aptitude testing, interview and analysis for potential recruitment into the service following their degree; but the Royal Navy will also use the university as a recruiting ground (like other societies) for new people to join up and learn the ways of the service.

    The URNU’s statement regarding recruitment, war or military intentions is simply a disclaimer to protect them from potential harassment or intimidatory behaviour – which is understandable in the current political climate. I am not condoning the clown group and its behaviour – personally I like to carry out political activism in a different manner. The Freshers Fair is a place of community, debate, discussion, openness, freedom of speech and tolerance; this is the way I would want any Freshers fair to be and I would want the URNU to be able to express themselves, just like any other society..

    You must understand however that by stating that the URNU has no military link, recruitment policy or affiliation to war is a patronising and insulting idea to me and any other young person in education who is actively against war and destruction. It is not about sharp comments or judgements without finding out what a certain group or party stands for, but the Royal Navy is the Royal Navy and they stand for military force, war, destruction and death – no matter how you try to repackage them. No sensible person associates the URNU with the general army or military – but they are an arm of the military with an active marine force and massive airborne capabilities.

    I would personally have no problem in talking to members of the URNU and openly find out what they are doing, like any other society. Political Activism is important and frankly I am at least glad to see that students here at the university are alive with questions, debate and concern. My previous university never illustrated that and I was frankly disappointed hugely at that.

    Yes, the WAY in which the attack on the URNU was not maybe appropriate. It may of been a lot better for them to have walked to the stand and tried to actively engage into discussion – but some people or collectives do not necessarily work in the same way. You cannot expect a utopia in an educational environment. Further education is about questioning, debating, challenging and trying to shape change for the future. Universities are surely a place where this has to be nurtured and pushed, not frowned upon in the way that you suggest. You almost communicate that because of this incident, the entire day was blemished. I do not agree.

    I think the way in which you have worded this article clearly shows that people sometimes ‘just want to get along’ and not have to be faced with angry and frustrated individuals who have a great deal of concern for where the country is heading for the future. You must remain open minded and balanced in your viewpoint in allowing things (within reason) to take place on the hotbed of further education.

    Would you therefore disagree with our fantastic ex-su chap who stuck himself to Gordon Brown then? Surely this could also be considered fanatical and detrimental if I follow the argument of your article? If your just talking about the way in which the incident happened last week, then fine.

    I reiterate though that the URNU is totally linked to the military and has a reason for existing. To recruit and build future potential leaders in their commissioned officers, (for people who have the educational achievement to show for it).

    I would say though that the clowns need to show themselves and explain what happened. We then need an open forum for discussion between the two.

    Let’s think about that and maybe we could see something opening up in the coming weeks

    Reply
  2. I am tired of this debate. It happens each year at this time and then nothing is heard of until it comes around the next year. It involves the same people and they never listen to the counter arguments or bother to open a dialogue with those students involved. After the protest last year, some sources say instigated by an elected Union Officer at the time, an open invitation was sent to ALL USSU officials to have a debate and demonstrate what the URNU is really about. Only one attended. My sources say the same person (not USSU Officer this year) is involved again this year. Don’t the students who attend the URNU deserve the same representation as those protesting against it? Shouldn’t those that took part in the incidents want an open dialogue? Clearly not – I would suggest that those involved are more interested in the protest than open debate.

    PS – the image at the bottom of that page is not put there by the URNU it is the same whichever page you look at on the RN website.

    PPS – see also the environmental education trip up the west coast of Africa by Arctic Survey Vessel HMS ENDURANCE, the drugs busting, anti-terrorism and smuggling patrols in the Middle East, Indian Ocean and Atlantic Ocean, and the humanitarian aid given in the Turk Islands in the wake of hurricane Ike.

    Reply
  3. I agree completely with the person above that these people are more interested in the act of protest than debate and compromise.
    It is just childish and hopefully they will grow out of it at some point, although there will always be another generation coming to the university with the same ignorant bullying tactics.

    In response to postman pat above, even if you think Dan Glass did an impressive thing by gluing himself to the prime minister (I’m dubious), this is in no way on a comparable scale. Attacking students who are part of a campus society is not going to bring down the navy or stop our country’s military advances.

    If any of them cared there are far more constructive ways to show their opposition. As for the clown suits, I’m assuming it;s because the whole thing is a bit of a laugh to these idiots who haven’t even bothered to find out about what they’re protesting against.

    Reply

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