A photograph recently circulated the internet showing a woman kneeling directly in front of a man. She imitated a sexual act. He simultaneously ‘downed’ a pint. At first glance this is typical of a student night out and the inevitable Facebook posts that follow. But in this situation a position of authority was compromised. The woman was a student. The man was President of Aberystwyth Guild of Students and member of the executive committee of the National Union of Students (Wales).
The 21-year old student representative, Ben Meakin, consequently resigned from his position in the NUS executive committee. NUS Wales President, Luke Young, highlighted the inappropriate nature of Meakin’s involvement in such an act, stating: “His actions have shown a serious lack of sound judgement. This is unacceptable for a member of the NUS Wales executive and is why I asked him to resign.”
In a formal statement, Meakin spoke of his ‘regret’ over the incident: “I sincerely regret my participation in the social event held outside the Guild…I compromised my role as Guild president. This morning [Tuesday 28th February], I resigned as a member of the NUS Wales national executive committee. My actions go against the fantastic work of the women’s liberation movement, which I fully support. Personally, I am a strong advocate for the women’s movement. This is clear through my work banning the event Carnage coming to the Guild this year. I have learned from this experience and plan to carry on my work here at Aberystwyth University.”
Opinions on the incident are inevitably divided. Many see Meakin’s participation in the game as hypocritical and sexist considering his role in the NUS and his stance on the rights of women. Others are less critical of the Guild president, recognising the informal setting and light-hearted nature of the act. It is a dilemma. Meakin holds a position of authority and of course should act with appropriate responsibly, even whilst on a night out. But he is unavoidably part of a liberal student culture in which such acts are more-often-than-not carried out in good humour. Meakin has shown fellow students respect by resigning his post in the NUS, as well as issuing a formal apology.
The incident demonstrates that issues regarding sexism and sexual exploitation are extremely prevalent, and should never be treated lightly. NUS Wales Women’s Officer, Stephanie Lloyd, spoke against sexism on campus, stating: “We must do everything we can to fight against it. Whilst Ben has joined our movement in the past, his recent actions are unacceptable.”
Furthermore, the importance of projecting an image appropriate to a chosen role or position of authority can never be emphasised enough.