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YUSU Women’s Officer Resigns following Referendum

Image: Michaela Tharby: Tharby and Catherine Yarrow following their election

Michaela Tharby, one of the University of York Students’ Union’s (YUSU) Women’s officers, has resigned. Tharby was the campaign co-ordinator for the winning ‘Yes’ campaign in the recent working class officer referendum. Tharby cited illness and a need to focus on her studies in an email. The role will now be left with her co-officer Catherine Yarrow.

Interestingly, Tharby also referred to the recent referendum:

While there are so many people in YUSU trying to do some good and run things well, it seems terrified to make any actual decisions, and politically apathetic. I was against a No team who ran a smear campaign, harassed, set up voting booths, got third party endorsement, amongst loads of other things. And nothing happened. No punishment. Complete avoidance of having to do anything on YUSU’s part.

I can’t represent an organisation which fails to act and hold those who wrong to account. It implicitly endorses their behaviour – and sets a dangerous precedent for the future. Many people see university as a ‘training ground’ for future politics, and all the No side have learnt is that you can run a smear campaign and get away with it. YUSU need to up their game, and start actually protecting students who want to make a difference.

This is particularly striking given that Tharby’s ‘Yes’ campaign won the referendum. Although the result was extremely tight, both in making quorum and beating ‘No’, Tharby has rejected questions over the legitimacy of the result. She told The Yorker that she felt the behaviour of the ‘No’ campaign had reduced both the turnout and the margin of victory for ‘Yes’.

This announcement from Tharby follows Connor Drake, co-ordinator of the ‘Yes’ campaign, saying he “was actually thinking about taking a leave of absence” on Facebook on November 13th. It is startling that two campaigners felt this kind of pressure. Regardless of the veracity of the accusations against the ‘No’ campaign, this is a disturbing development that adds to an inauspicious few weeks for YUSU.

There is always a temptation to politicise resignations. Tharby has acknowledged the role of the referendum in her decision. It is, however, also a personal decision and this should not be overlooked for the sake of student-political agenda. Much of the negative coverage of the referendum campaign has centred around the personal nature of the debate. Tharby told The Yorker that this resignation was political and personal. When asked if she felt YUSU could have done more to support her during the campaign she said:

Definitely. YUSU’s reaction was a tendency to go ‘both sides have misbehaved’ in response to allegations which is an unhelpful avoidance of blame at best. None of my team would ever do what the No side did. We were never personal or undemocratic. 

Tharby concluded, “I have massively enjoyed my experience as womens officer overall, and I have learned so much from it”.

Following this recent news, The Yorker has contacted the Student’s Union and is awaiting comment. Further updates will follow.