Just 3 weeks after Newcastle University was criticised at the inquest into the death of 1st year student Edward (Ed) Farmer, a planned amnesty by Newcastle University Student Union has been announced.
The amnesty would allow clubs, societies, and any individual students to anonymously report behavior that may take place at banned initiations, potentially facing no consequences for the events that had taken place. The objective would be to give the union as much information as possible regarding events that are banned but still take place in secrecy.
Ed Farmer, a first year Economics student, died after an initiation-style event hosted by the Agricultural Society in December 2016. Initiations and initiation-style events were banned at the time, as they are now. At the inquest into the death of Ed Farmer it was heard that he was "physically shaking" and a number of other students were "nervous".
An amnesty run by Newcastle Students Union, which would be open to students revealing details of banned activities taking place within sports clubs and societies, would likely be the first such event to take place among universities.
[pullquote]Elstob said she hopes "people get on board and see it as a positive exercise to move forward".[/pullquote]
Activities Officer Sophie McDermott, who oversees all societies, and Athletic Union Officer Maggie Elstob, who oversees all sports clubs, spoke to The Courier. Elstob and McDermott both stated their belief that students should have two different forms of contact during the amnesty. These would be drop-in sessions for students to talk face to face about their experience,s and an online form in which experiences could be shared anonymously.
Initiations, which often consist of excessive drinking and can lead to some students being coerced into drinking alcohol, have been banned at Newcastle University since 2009. Students who are found to have organised or participated in such events will be "subject to disciplinary action" according to University guidelines.
While the amnesty remains in the early stages of planning, an email sent to clubs by Elstob on Friday suggested that details are still to be agreed upon regarding on when exactly any amnesty will take place and how it will. A source within the Union, however, tells us that there are no plans for it to take place before the Christmas break.
Elstob stated that she believed the most successful way an amnesty could work and be respected by sports clubs was to ensure that clubs "have trust in the union". She added that giving people options on "how to disclose information" was important to ensure the process would gather the widest possible field of information.
Sophie McDermott said that she was initially uncomfortable with the idea of an amnesty, but if it were to take place would see it as an exercise to "simply try to find out both the details of these events and the way it made our students feel". She emphasised that she felt action was needed to ensure that the culture at Newcastle University could be changed, but acknowledged that the issues raised in the inquest were societal issues that needed addressing too.
While Elstob claimed that there was little to no pushback from sports clubs, McDermott stated that she had heard a number of objections from societies. She said members of Society Executive Committee had expressed concerns about the amnesty going ahead.
When asked whether she believed this amnesty would definitely be going ahead, McDermott said that "enough people want it to happen."
When asked whether she herself wanted the amnesty to happen, she stated that she "will support [her] sabbatical team." However, she stipulated that it would have to be something she was comfortable putting her name behind, stressing that her main aim is to make a safe and supportive environment for students.
Elstob concluded by saying that she hopes "people get on board and see it as a positive exercise to move forward".
Student Union President Raff Marioni said in his State of the Union Speech at Union council that the amnesty "wouldn’t be a period were the current ban on initiations would be lifted", continuing to say that "it would be overall very useful to hear descriptions of their initiations so we understand the problems and are better equipped to tackle the problems".