Eyebrows were raised across campus at the start of this term, when incoming first year students were met with a Give it a Go bucket list telling them to “meet a Greek or Slav”. Arguably off-key, perhaps even in poor taste – this brings up questions about what measures The University of York Student Union (YUSU) takes to ensure its media and advertisements remain inoffensive to students.
Give it a Go is a YUSU program aimed at inspiring students to join new societies in order to get the most out of their university experience. They give out booklets at the start of the term detailing events held by societies across campus, whether to do with employability or leisure.
When asked to comment comment, President of Russian-Speaking Society Alexander Pokrovskiy said:
I do not think there is anything inherently wrong with suggesting students can meet someone from a different country. However, I do find the word “Slav” to be problematic. I don’t think I ever heard it being used in a manner that was not derogatory. From what I understand, the word “Slav” in English also has common origin with “slave”, which is problematic in itself. “Eastern European” would be a much better and commonly used alternative.
He did, however, highlight that he was not personally offended:
I’m sure it was an honest mistake on behalf of the writer and was merely intended to highlight the wide variety of people from different backgrounds you have the opportunity to meet in our university, and there is nothing wrong with that.
It is true that the English word is derived from the word “slave” – in medieval wars many Eastern Europeans were captured and enslaved. Although it is not considered by many to hold the same cultural significance as other, more common racial slurs, that its use was permitted by YUSU appears to raise questions over the rigour of their sign-off processes. Currently, the student union’s by-laws describe any “conduct detrimental to the public reputation of the union” as a breach of discipline. It remains to be seen whether the union’s use of the term “slav” warrants a change to the way YUSU polices itself.
When asked about the poster, YUSU president Alex Urquhart was sympathetic to students’ concerns:
The Give it a Go Bucket List was put together to promote the autumn programme which provides a huge range of events for students to get involved with at York; the item in question references a Greek mythology event with the Greek and Cypriot Soc, ‘Zeus and His Family Drama’ and a Russian Speaking Society Russian film night. We are sorry if anyone in our community was offended by the bucket list.We always appreciate feedback from students and are reviewing our sign off processes.
Mr Urquhart did not, however, give specifics about what changes were being proposed – and later implied that no further action would be taken in response to this specific event.