July 21, 2011

IconStudents slam ‘inaccurate’ Stonewall guide

LGBT student leaders and university societies from across the country have criticised Stonewall’s second annual guide to gay-friendly universities in the UK.

Detractors claim that Gay By Degree has a number of incorrect entries and does not adequately convey the role of student LGBT societies. Alleged inaccuracies include missing information on welfare provision, student groups and staff networks.

“The guide is potentially extremely useful but we have a number of reservations about its accuracy and focus,” explained NUS LGBT officers Vicki Baars and Alan Bailey in statement sent to Lesbilicious.

“The guide shows a lack of understanding of how student representation works in the Higher Education Sector and how HE Institutions interact with their autonomous Students’ Unions,” they added.

Baars and Bailey insist that the NUS LGBT campaign was not contacted ahead of the guide’s publication. The majority of university societies and networks were similarly ignored during the creation of the guide.

“Neither I nor the current LGBT officer were contacted about this year’s [guide] to the best of my knowledge [...] it contains the exact same inaccuracies as last year,” said Charley Hasted, Equal Opportunities officer at Staffordshire University Students’ Union.

Stonewall appear to have acquired much of their information from various websites. “Having gone to look at what S’onewall [sic] have actually written about York this year, I find that they have copied text almost verbatim from our LGBT society’s website yet linked to our LGBT Network’s website,” said Liam Haakon Smith, a student at the University of York.

“They show no understanding that these two are distinct [...] the last time they did this, they included information referencing stuff that happens at the other York University [in Toronto, Canada].”

Another point of concern for many was the erasure of trans people and other marginalised groups, as student societies are invariably described as “LGB socs” in Gay By Degree.

“Warwick Pride has, for as long as I can remember, always made sure to advertise itself as an LGBTUA+ [lesbian, gay, bi, trans, undefined and asexual] society,” said Lucy Davies, who represents trans people at the University of Warwick.

“We aim to be inclusive of all non-heteronormative people, and by missing out over half of our acronym, they are undermining that inclusiveness we strive to promote.”

This sentiment was echoed by Smith: “If they want to just work on sexuality and leave gender out of it, fine by me. The problem is that they are make-believing that everyone else is doing the same thing.”

Stonewall claimed to have spoken “to several students” in a tweet yesterday after the project’s credentials were questioned by Twitter users. The statement also highlighted a number of “case studies as seen in the Guardian”.

Edit 22 July: Emma Doyle from Stonewall has responded to this story – please see the comments below.

17 Responses to Students slam ‘inaccurate’ Stonewall guide

  1. Mary says:

    “They show no understanding that these two are distinct [...] the last time they did this, they included information referencing stuff that happens at the other York university – which is in the States”.

    Actually, Canada. :) But yes, the survey is really weird!

  2. Ruth.Pearce says:

    Thanks for the correction!

  3. Eleanor Saunders says:

    I was surprised that they actually named our group correctly – LGBTQ.

    They did state that we weren’t a Stonewall Diversity Champion when in fact we are (noy that it means anything), but did correct it quickly. The overall entry doesn’t communicate anything much about the reality of being LGBT here, though.

  4. Claire says:

    This is interesting- I’ve been closely involved in working on our application for the Workplace scheme, and also an application for the Stonewall Education Index (which covers schools). We are required to provide a huge amount of information and supporting evidence to back it up, it’s a lot of work! I wonder if the problems here are caused by Stonewall having less stringent standards in the University scheme, or possibly only having one contact person in each Uni (possibly on staff) who hasn’t bothered to contact the LGBT groups or do any factchecking… Would be interesting to know.

  5. Tommy P says:

    I saw this for my University (warwick) and I was shocked that the rating was so low, no one I know was contacted at all, and the guide certainly isn’t representative of the time I had at University.

    Thank god Warwick doesn’t need a university guide to be world renound for being a liberal (if elitist) institution.

  6. Alexander says:

    I also rolled my eyes when I saw that S’onewall had written “LGB socs” when they’re ALL “LGBT”. I realise S’onewall doesn’t have any part in trans activism, but they could still have the decency to report the existence of LGBT societies accurately, without going out of their way to leave out the T.

  7. Emma Doyle (Stonewall) says:

    Stonewall is sorry that the NUS LGBT officers are unhappy with the university guide. However the methodology for the guide was carefully developed with young people of 16 and 17 themselves and asks the questions they wanted us to pose. Those young people are very clear that they want to know about information that is easily available and already in the public domain because that’s what people going to uni actually have access to. Therefore the guide was based on information available on uni websites.

  8. Andrew Kirby says:

    Ok, so this flawed methodology from Stonewall was brought in because of what the FE students asked for. But surely someone could have pointed out to the students that if they are only going to collate information that is already in the public domain, the students aren’t won’t be learning anything they can’t find out for themselves and will be mising out on certain pieces of information. As far as I’m aware nobody was contacted at Chester University, where I have been the captain of the LGBT society. If they had contacted us they would have found out that a number of issues we have been marked down on are actually present at our university! This is going to give future students a jaded and inaccurate opinion of us! I also take issue with the fact that we were described as an LGB society – missing off the T. Stonewall should acknowledge who we represent as a group, not just acknowledge the people who they claim to represent!

  9. Emma Brownbill says:

    Right. So Stonewall have wilfully and systematically contributed to propagating bad information, which may negatively affect students’ choice of University?

    Perhaps one of your 16 to 17 year olds can point you to somewhere online that provides a definition of “Lazy” and “Irresponsible”.

  10. Emma Doyle (Stonewall) says:

    All unversities were contacted in January 2011 and advised that we would only be using information in the public domain, and reminded again in May 2011.

  11. Kieran Burn says:

    Could you clarify what you mean by ‘university’? If you’re contacting the management then you’re even more out if touch than I thought. As LGBTQ rep as Sussex uni, I can confirm that we were not at any point contacted and the data now online is fairly inaccurate, although we don’t have much to complain about compared to others unis. Basically, I think if you should have the decency to contact actual LGBT societies rather than the management who are completely separate entities. SUs and unis aren’t always best of friends. Try and talk to everyone involved and paint a fuller picture next time if you’re going to bother doing it at all.

  12. Liam Haakon Smith says:

    I second what Kieran said. Universities often don’t know what their student unions do – and in at least one Uni I know of actively discourage LGBT societies.

  13. Ro says:

    Using info from websites isn’t a good representation, because it’s not where these young people will get the information when they get to uni.
    When they arrive at uni they’ll me the LGBT(+) soc at the freshers’ fair, maybe a welcome event, icebreaker, pubcrawl or similar. They’ll probably join a mailing list for the society and a facebook group or page, and find out all about the society through those, rather than looking on a public website.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that for some unis this info will be available on the uni’s internal website, such as Blackboard or Moodle or similar, as these often have “Community” pages, meaning that it’s available to the students but not to the general public. That doesn’t mean the information doesn’t exist, as S’onewall seem to suggest.

  14. Aaron Spence says:

    Just a quick clarification…which part of our University Student Based Services or Union Advice service has failed to provide Stonewall with sufficient LGB(TQ) Welfare Advice or information on LGB(TQ) issues?

    Does a student advice service providing advice, help and literature to gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer students not constitute LGB(TQ) welfare support and information?

    On a side note, a thank you to Stonewall for correcting their error and acknowledging our existance as an Association.

    - Aaron Spence,
    YOURlgbtq* Association Chair

  15. Emma Brownbill says:

    To echo what Kieran said, I can find no evidence that my predecessors as YUSU LGBT Officer were contacted by Stonewall regarding the site. What I *did* find (amusingly) was an email from myself over a year ago, regarding the insidious trans erasure in the guide.

    Given that some of the text included in the guide appears to come straight from our website (not the University’s), and that our LGBT Network’s logo has been used in the guide, I’m less than impressed.

  16. Tami Peterson says:

    Emma Doyle, It isn’t just “NUS LGBT Officers” that are not happy with the guide, it’s society members across the country. It is particularly galling that you have done this for a second year in a row AFTER having been approached by numerous LGBT (and I emphasise the T!) societies last year. It is a willful disregard for the hard work the societies do and the largest democratic LGBT youth organisation in Europe (NUS LGBT) that you seem to continue to dismiss because of their important work for Trans rights. Sort yourselves out if you ever want to be taken seriously by new generations of LGBT activists!

    Member Birkbeck Pride, University of London (Never contacted by Stonewall either by the way…)

  17. Charley says:

    When I have to resort to leaving a comment on our entry in order to get the correct info out there after having an email (which I sent you last year after the first guide came out) utterly ignored. You’re doing it wrong.

    This has the potential to be a really useful resource but if you’re not talking to student’s unions. You’re doing it wrong.

    I get that you don’t represent anyone who isn’t LGB, even though I may loathe and depise you for it, but by not working with T, A and even Q groups (collaboration/partnership working you may have heard of thses things it means you don’t have all the glory but you mght actually do some good) huge numbers of people aren’t getting what they need from a guide. Guess what? You’re doing it WRONG!

    I worked to get a trans group from the local community using our SU so students would have it as a resource. I worked to get GNT’s so students wouldn’t get attacked. I worked to improve our equal opps forms for student staff so we’d get a better idea of the number of LGBTQA student’s we were employing and I’m not the only one but none of that was done with any bloody help from the Uni so of course they’re not going to mention it.

    Equally don’t give me crap about public domain. The fact we have GNT’s was in at least 2 national newspapers isn’t that public enough for you?

Ruth Pearce


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