Harassment case in disarray Union support rejected due to “hypocritical behaviour”

Originally published in Volume I, Issue 12 on 12th May 1995 by Pat Leahy .

 

The Students’ Union will not be assisting the case against the society posters. Postgraduate student Cheryl Anne Harrison, who has claimed that certain posters sexually harassed her, told the Union on Tuesday that she no longer wanted their support. She claims that “ridiculous contradictions, public antics and hypocritical behaviour of the [Students’ Union] executive” forced her to withdraw her request. Women’s Rights Officer Fiona Robinson has resigned from her position in protest.

The Students’ Union council endorsed the decision to support Ms Harrison’s case last week in an acrimonious debate which saw Education Officer Malcolm Byrne and Welfare Officer Stephanie Leahy at loggerheads over the affair. However, at a bitterly divided SU executive meeting last Tuesday, the officers were informed that Ms Harrison did not want the Union’s involvement. She complained that “certain Students’ Union officers have made it very clear to me (both personally and in the press) that they do not support their own executive’s decision to represent my case.”

It is believed that Union President Aisling Ni Bhriain made it clear to Harrison that the Union was in no way condemning the society posters, but was rather drawing attention to the absence of procedures to deal with complaints of this sort. Education Officer Malcolm Byrne was quoted in Tuesday’s Irish Times criticising the decision to take the case. Ms Harrison complained of the of the “larger amounts of negative publicity generated by the Students’ Union executive decision to support my case.” She accused the Union of a “total inability to deal with issues affecting women in this College.”

Women’s Rights Officer Fiona Robinson has severely criticised the Students’ Union executive for the handling of the affair. She accused the Union officers of ignoring the promises they made to Ms. Harrison. In her resignation notes, she described the posters as “attacks on women” and said, “I cannot stay on the executive as Women’s Rights Officer when the executive finds it so difficult to condemn the offensive and harassing nature of such posters to women, the very people that I am supposed to be representing.”

However, an executive source told the University Observer that at no stage had the executive council ever passed judgement on the content of the posters. Aisling Ni Bhriain has written to all clubs and societies pointing out that the Union’s only involvement was to highlight the absence of procedures to deal with such complaints, and the manner in which Cheryl Anne Harrison’s complaints had been dealt with. She stressed that the Students’ Union did not wish to sit in judgement on the societies in question.

The move will be seen as a blow to efforts to force the College to adopt procedures for dealing with sexual harassment. The Action Committee on Sexual Harassment of the Women’s Studies Society also initiated complaints against the society posters in February. While the initial complaint was against the “lapse in procedures” in dealing with Ms. Harrison’s complaint, it is thought that the Student Union’s endorsement if her case could only strengthen the movement. Now that the Union’s involvement has ceased, it will make efforts at Governing Body level to raise the issue more difficult.

It is expected that society auditors will be happy with the outcome of the affair. One auditor told the University Observer “the Forum should be the place to deal with complaints against societies. The fact the Students’ Union are no longer involved means that students organisations will not be seen to pitted against one another.”