Doreen Lawrence, Benjamin Zephaniah and Diane Abbott are among those who have united to express concern about the National Union of Students (NUS) proposed new Constitution.
The NUS Black Students' Campaign has launched a statement calling on NUS to delay adopting the new Constitution until an Equality Impact Assessment – which would identify the new Constitution's impact on Black, disabled, lesbian gay, bisexual and trans students (LGBT), and women – has been conducted and reported.
Founding signatories of the statement include Doreen Lawrence OBE, Dr Benjamin Zephaniah, Diane Aboott MP, Cllr Salma Yaqoob, Keith Vaz MP, Operation Black Vote (OBV), Lester Holloway, Editor of The New Nation and Lee Jasper.
In November NUS made a commitment to conduct an Equality Impact Assessment, after being mandated to do so by delegates at NUS Conference. NUS has now announced that the new Constitution will be voted on at a Conference on January 20th, despite the fact that the Equality Impact Assessment has not yet even been commissioned.
The new Constitution would reduce the influence and authority of elected representatives of Black, disabled, LGBT and women students, by removing these Officers from the most powerful decision-making body in NUS. Diversity of participation in the events that determine NUS' policies and priorities would also be undermined by the new Constitution.
Doreen Lawrence OBE said: "I am disappointed to hear that as the 10th anniversary of the Lawrence Inquiry approaches, NUS is planning to roll back Black students' representation. I was proud to support the creation of a Black Students' Officer in NUS, the position is vital in ensuring NUS properly represents Black students and challenges institutional racism. Undermining the Black Students' Officer's powers and influence would be disastrous for Black students. I urge the leaders of NUS to reconsider their proposals."
Dr Benjamin Zephaniah said: "After years of struggling to get young Black people represented at all levels of higher education the NUS should be respecting and supporting Black students who are facing racism, harassment and prejudice in schools, colleges and universities. It saddens and disappoints me to see that instead of encouraging representation they are sidelining the Black Students Officer, which in real terms means that many of the needs and concerns of Black students will be ignored. This is a step backwards."
Diane Abbott MP said: "NUS should be actively encouraging more Black students to participate in its activities, but instead these proposals will shut out many Black students from key decisions in NUS. With Black people shockingly under-represented in Parliament, and in other powerful positions in society, NUS should be acting to strengthen, not weaken the position of Black students in its leadership."
Simon Wooley, Director, OBV said: "On the day that people around the world will be celebrating the inauguration on the first Black US President, Barack Obama, the NUS leadership are showing scant regard for Black representation."
Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, NUS Black Students' Officer said: "We are extremely concerned at NUS' refusal to wait for the findings of an Equality Impact Assessment before adopting a new Constitution. In November NUS made a public commitment to conduct an impact assessment, but now it is backtracking by scheduling a vote on the new Constitution before an Equality Impact Assessment has even been commissioned. The concerns of Black students about a reduction in our representation and participation in NUS have been ignored as the leaders of NUS seek to rush through this fundamental decision without proper consideration."
The full text of the statement is copied below:
"We are deeply concerned at the National Union of Students (NUS) decision to proceed with adopting a new Constitution before an Equality Impact Assessment on the proposals has reported.
The NUS Black Students' Campaign has expressed strong concerns that Black students' representation and participation in NUS will be reduced if the new Constitution is introduced. The LGBT Campaign has also expressed concern at the proposals. Both have called for an Equality Impact Assessment to be conducted to identify the impact of the new Constitution on Black, Disabled, LGBT and Women students.
Equalities legislation, including the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, Gender Equality Duty and Disability Discrimination Act, recognises the need for regular Equality Impact Assessments to identify any discrimination in an organisation's policies and procedures.
NUS has announced that an Equality Impact Assessment on its proposed Constitution will be unable to report until March or April 2009, but it still plans to take a decision to implement the new Constitution in January 2009. This would make it impossible for the impact assessment to influence the proposed Constitution before it is adopted, and so would render the entire process almost meaningless.
We call on NUS to ensure no decisions are taken about the proposed Constitution until a full Equality Impact Assessment has been conducted and its findings reported."