For the equal representation of all

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The motion to create a faith committee is vague, breaks with secular principles and threatens to disenfranchise minorities within faiths

The following motion is before the senate this Thursday:

Title:
To set up a Faith Committee in the Students Union decision-making body, Senate. To work with the faith societies to investigate the appropriate ways in which faith students can be represented.
Details:
The Students’ Union should create a Faith Students’ committee that represents the voices of faith students in SU decision-making (Senate), leads faith-related work on campus and advises the SU on faith-related issues. There are a large number of Faith Students on campus. The number of faith students is growing on account of the University’s internationalisation strategy and yet, there are no extra precautions in place to prepare for this increased intake. The Students’ Union should foster an inclusive environment for Faith Students, to represent our views and campaign on issues that matter to us. The voices of Faith Students are important to the Students Union, in terms of advising Senate of faith-related issues on campus and in our communities. Faith Students should have the opportunity to represent ourselves and ensure that our voices are heard.

The motion presented to senate lacks sufficient detail. In particular:

  • Who will be represented on the Faith Committee – which societies are considered ‘faith societies’, how will the members of the faith committees be chosen (appointment, election etc.)? Will the makeup of the committee be by proportional representation (the bigger the number of students of a particular faith, the more members on the faith committee) or will it be one-faith-one-seat?
  • How often this Faith Committee will meet. Who will chair it?
  • The powers and remit of the faith committee. How will the faith committee work exactly within Senate? Is it simply an advisory body that will make suggestions to Senate or will it have power to determine SU policy on ‘faith related issues’?
  • What constitutes a faith-related issue? And how will this be determined? Will critiquing of certain teachings within faiths be considered a faith issue for example? The lack of detail in this proposal could lead to the faith committee being used for more than its intended purpose in the future. There needs to be clear guidelines for what a faith related issue is.

 

Even if the above details are clarified, this proposal is problematic for several reasons.

  • Firstly the Students Union is supposed to be a secular body that represents all students. The setting up of a faith committee that ‘represent our [faith students’] views’ would affect the secular nature of the Union, especially as the powers of the committee have not been specified. Whilst for many students their faith is extremely important, in a secular institution, no beliefs or faiths, religious or otherwise, should be given privilege or precedence over any other belief/stance.
  • The need for a faith committee is not well established. Why is a separate committee required? What specific issues are so important and unique to only faith students that a separate committee, that only faith students sit on, is needed? The Union already has liberation committees, exec officers and regular campaigns. What additional benefit will this committee bring to the Union or indeed students?
  • What is a ‘faith’? Is this a religion or is it any strongly held belief? Can any student state that their opinions constitute a faith and thus be admitted onto the faith committee? Will we therefore be judging certain held beliefs as worth of the title ‘faith’ and the privileges that being on this committee would bring?
  • How can we be sure that every faith is represented? Amongst our student body, there are literally 10s, even possibly 100s of different faiths. Is each faith going to be represented on this committee? Or in practice, will it mainly be the ‘main’ religions/faiths that will be represented?
  • There is also the question of about the multitude of differences in opinion between members of each faith. The worry is that minority/opposing views within each ‘faith group’ will be neglected and ignored if certain faith groups or individuals within each faith group are given the authority to ‘represent the voices of faith students in SU-decision making’.
  • Working with the current faith societies to establish the faith committee has its own problems including:
  • Only a small fraction of students who may consider themselves of a certain faith may belong to the associated faith society. Due to ideological, theological or other differences, many students of a ‘faith’ may in fact disagree profoundly with the associated faith society.
  • There may be faiths that don’t have a specific associated society set up at the moment. As such people of this faith might not be invited onto the committee and views of this particular faith would be neglected.