I’m all for inclusivity in universities. But where’s the line between inclusivity and imposition?
The University of Manchester Students’ Union announced that they’re banning clapping at their democratic events, opting for the more inclusive action of British Sign Language clapping, which sort of looks like jazz hands. This change was motivated by a desire to make students with autism, sensory and anxiety disorders, and deafness feel more comfortable at students’ union events.
Manchester SU liberation and access officer Sara Kahn never mentions the process that went into making this decision. While I understand where their decision is coming from, sensory disorders include much more than just auditory triggers; there are visual triggers such as bright lights and colours, and other triggers like smells, textures, and large crowds. Individuals with anxiety disorders and autism go through therapy to better incorporate such sensory input into their everyday life. Did the Manchester SU stop to consider that this could impact these coping mechanisms they’ve learned to incorporate into everyday life?
Lots of people are calling out for the support of visually impaired students as they will be left unable to see the BSL clapping, further inhibiting their participation. When Kahn was posed with this scenario, she stated that BSL clapping is just the first step in what the SU believes to be a positive direction. Her response came across as more of a realization of an effect they hadn’t considered in the decision-making process.
I understand the decision the SU made, but I think it was executed poorly. They didn’t discuss what inclusivity actually looks like with the groups that they’re trying to include. Was there ever a survey or roundtable with students experiencing these issues? Without that conversation, supposed solutions get imposed upon individuals, ones that don’t seem wholly thought out. Is the Manchester SU doing anything else to address more significant triggers these students may face on an everyday basis?
The SU also brought up issues of respect. They disagree with the shouting and loud noises at political events around the world, due to the environment of disrespect that they create, especially when shouting leads to one side being overpowered or left unheard. In an ideal world, politics could be handled diplomatically and level-headedly. However, the reality is, especially proven by the Kavanagh case, that politics is messy and systems are corrupt. If you’re a minority and you stay quiet or speak in what’s considered a rational manner, your voice will not be heard. While there are many critiques to be made on political discussions and mannerisms, it’s an oversimplification to say that shouting and loud noises at democratic events are all terrible.
The Manchester SU seems to be tackling multiple issues at once with a single response. I question if the solution was well-researched. If the people at a university are asked what accommodations they need, and banning clapping is one of them, then yes, find other solutions to clapping. But don’t assume that you’ve created the right solution without even beginning to understand that population in the first place.