An equality conference has hit national headlines this week for allegedly voting to ban "straight, white men" from meetings.
At the University and College Union congress in Liverpool last week, union members voted down a motion to allow anyone to attend four individual conferences at the yearly equality conference, which were for specific minority groups - black members, disabled members, LGBT members and women members.
The motion was defeated by members to preserve the opportunity for minority groups to meet at the conference to discuss the unique obstacles they face in the workplace.
Recent headlines have covered the story, implying that straight, white men were banned from the entire equality conference, which takes place in November or December annually.
However, these four conferences are only a subset of the conference's itinerary, as a UCU spokesman told indy100:
There will be plenary and workshops and anyone can attend those – despite some press reports suggesting otherwise. It is the separate conferences that are for members of different groups – as they always have been and are with lots of other organisations.
Members voted to continue the convention whereby different groups meet at a conference to discuss the unique obstacles they face in the workplace. This is standard practice throughout the trade union movement and certainly not a new initiative.
The separate conferences are intended as a forum for specific groups, and straight, white men are still very welcome to the conference as a whole to discuss issues about equality and diversity.
Critics have said that equality reps for the union should be permitted access to these conference sessions and breakout meetings, such as Emma-Jane Phillips, who sits on the UCU equality committee, who said:
Equality reps are passionate about equality regardless of their own situation.
To infer that someone does not understand someone’s situation just because you don’t tick a box is insulting.
She told Times Higher Education:
It is ridiculous that people who regard equality as their life can’t attend our equality conference.
However, this point has been rejected by those who say the breakout sessions serve a unique purpose for the specific minority groups to voice concerns that only pertain to their situations.
Ciara Doyle, senior lecturer in youth and community studies at the University of Greenwich, told Times Higher Education:
We see in the union movement that… some people’s voices are far louder than others.
In essence, regarding the headlines that straight, white men are not permitted to attend the breakout conferences that do not apply to their minority group, because straight, white men are not considered a minority group.
To say that they have been banned from the conference as a whole, however, is wholly incorrect.