The one with the tree: Student Council's second meeting

The second council meeting of the year raised many questions about the future of a proposed tree

Kayleigh Fraser
2nd December 2021
At this Council meeting it was a tree that stole the show. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
On the 22 November, Student Council gathered once again to debate and discuss the most pressing issues on campus. This month it was a hypothetical tree that got us all talking.

The meeting kicked off in conventional form with a quick introduction from Haaris and a call to approve the minutes from last months meeting - there were no objections. Second on the agenda was to elect a marginalised genders officer. Nathan Hartley was nominated and elected with no objections.

Moving on to the reports, the steering committee as well as the disciplinary and scrutiny were passed through with no objections. Next up was our Student Union President Abbie to do her state of the Union report.

Hutchinson started off by discussing mental health, affirming to council that "From all of us as a team we want you to know that if you are having struggles with your wellbeing at the moment or living with poor mental health, you are not alone. Mental health is just as important as physical."

The President continued her report to mention the safety net; officers are holding the University to account by assuring they put in place the measures they said they would.

This month, Abbie sat on the first ever student mental health charter group, worked on activism to make misogyny a hate crime, attended a University finance committee and attended COP26. She candidly mentioned the highlight of the event as having "pizza with the minister of Tonga."

In terms of student media, she congratulated Editor George Boatfield and the rest of the team on our first print issue of the year and applauded the hard work that went in to fight night 2021.

It was time for the fun part next - the motions. Since there were only two for the entire night, many of us thought we'd have an early finish. This was not the case.

First up it was motion 401 to mandate sabbatical officers to mandate Newcastle University's hiring practices and for the creation of the NUSU modern slavery policy. Alex Walker was invited to the podium to argue for the motion.

He said, 'The Chinese state is persecuting a genocide in Western China, and Dr Jo Smith Finley (an academic here), notable for her research in Western China, has recently been sanctioned by the Chinese Communist party."

"At Newcastle, there is what is called the 'Confucius Institute' and these are units of academics sent from China." He continued to say that some of these academics are chosen by the Communist party (through a government department).

Given the behaviour of the Chinese government, Walker noted that it would be "In breach of our discrimination laws". The motion passed with 27 to 11 votes.

Sadly, the meeting only got more complicated after that. Motion 402 was introduced, put forward by Elliot Kirkpatrick regarding the 'Queen's Green Canopy project'. The motion detailed the idea to plant a tree in commemoration of the Queen's Jubilee next year - marking seventy years on the British throne.

The campaign, led by the Queen, urges schools, universities, businesses and individuals to plant a tree and commemorate this occasion whilst having a positive environmental effect.

Speaking to council, Kirkpatrick stated that "We should be planting trees anyway, so it's a nice excuse for the Union to do this." He continued "This motion will mandate the Union to ask the estate team of the University to see where we could plant a tree."

LGBT+ officer George Wood was first to weigh in on the debate: "It just strikes me that a University of over 28,000 students should be planting one tree." Head of Current Affairs Elizabeth Meade followed this, saying "Shouldn't we be planting trees for their own sake?" and questioned the need to refer to the Queen in the tree planting.

Kirkpatrick responded saying that "Opinion polls recently have shown that a majority of every age category including our age category (so presumably a majority of people at the University) do support the Queen."

He also stated "Wether you believe in the institution of monarchy or not, I think this is sort of a personal thanks to the queen as a head of state. It's seventy years. Wether you agree with the fact that she's inherited the role or not, you do certainly put a lot of effort in to it in that time."

Education officer Livia Scott was first to speak against the motion. "I just take issue with the statement that the monarchy has done nothing but good for the UK and commonwealth."

Scott argued "The monarchy and their ancestors and what they stand upon have pillaged, killed and destroyed the land of multiple places and multiple countries." The officer argued strongly that it goes against what the Union is trying to do. That is, decolonise the curriculum and the University as a whole. "I don't oppose planting a tree, I oppose planting the tree on the basis of celebrating a racist institution."

The debate ravaged on after this, with all sides of council speaking for and against the motion. That was until LGBT+ officer George Wood suggested we amend the motion to simply plant a tree and take away any association with the monarchy. It didn't go well.

Elliot, who put the motion forward, rejected the change. This meant it had to go to voting - a 'procedural' motion. He said "The whole point of this motion is for the Queen's Jubilee specifically... For the sake of unity, we should have a vote on this now."

At this point anyone one was allowed to get up and speak for or against the motion. Alex Walker opened up the debate, saying "I'm sad that it's gone this way, and I'm a little bit disappointed in this council because we all feel very strongly about colonialism. We all view it as a terrible, terrible thing."

Later in his argument, he said "I don't think that (the motion) should have been pulled in to such a deep debate about colonialism and I don't think it's fair to Elliot who's prepared this motion about something he believes in to have it jumped on."

After I asked a question regarding the importance of the plaque itself, Walker replied stating he was "sticking up" for Kirkpatrick and that to have the motion turned into something else in Council is "blatantly unfair". He continued "It's unfair on people who devote their time to come here. It's really not fair and it just can't be done because what's the point in us all being here."

In the end after around forty minutes we got to the root of the problem. The motion (with the amendment) passed.

Lastly we moved on to elections for positions. Haaris Qureshi and Evie Jackson were elected with no objections to the welfare, campaigns and liberations executive committee.

Finally after a very jam packed two hours it was time for us to end and branch out. Everyone thanked members for attending and also thanked Chair of Council Haaris Qureshi.

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AUTHOR: Kayleigh Fraser
Campus Comment Sub Editor for 2021/22 and Head of News at NSR. English Literature Student heavily obsessed with politics, bath and body works and making positive change. Also slightly infatuated with iced coffee, guinea pigs, my dog and binging The Simpsons.

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