NUCATS criticised over ‘damaging’ language

The Newcastle University Student's Union.
Image: Wikimedia Commons, Chemical Engineer.The Newcastle University Student's Union. Image: Wikimedia Commons, Chemical Engineer.

The NUCATS society has faced severe criticism for using misogynistic, transphobic and racist language at the ‘Gameathon’ charity event.

The news came to light after the pictures of the screens featuring the game Fibbage were posted on Facebook and Twitter.

The insulting nicknames used in the game by the participants included: “Saffronisman”, “Pat’sjapseye” and “Bigdickmcgee”.

Dozens of students complained on Twitter, after which the university launched an investigation into the incident.

“We’re taking this complaint very seriously and are working closely with @NewcastleSU [Newcastle University Students’ Union] to investigate and take appropriate actions.”

The 24-hour Gameathon 2017 took place on March 11 and 12, with around 120 participants coming to raise money for Willow Burn Hospice, the charity providing free palliative care for people with life-limiting illnesses.

The event featured dozens of consoles, giveaways, competitions and hundreds of games, including Fibbage – an interactive party game played on a smartphone or tablet.

Each round of the game provides a statement on the screen with a missing word, while the players have to suggest the incorrect answers to fool others into picking it.

Pictures from a previous gameathon event depicted answers suggested by participants, among which were the words “feminists” and “vaginas”.

Following a string of complaints, the society issued a statement on Facebook apologising for “facilitating participants to personally attack and make inappropriate comments towards anyone”.

Chris Napier, acting president of NUCATS, said:

“We were appalled by the situation ourselves. We had no real control over someone writing that”.

 “When we found out, we immediately took the game down and with the help of Harry, our president at the time, we tried to find out who it was, but due to the timing and the number of people there we were unable to find who it was.”

The society has resolved to ban the games for the future events that allow users to set the nicknames anonymously.

But the incident has already sparked concerns about the social climate and all-inclusivity on campus.

Saffron KershawMee, Marginalised Genders Officer, who fell victim to the NUCATS’ transphobic sentiments, said the situation had “shaken and upset” them.

“I was personally attacked through an onscreen name during one of the games and I have also heard that throughout the night several members verbally berated me.

“Just because it was my name mentioned during the incidents, the members’ actions are certainly not only affecting me. This isn’t just an individual case of bullying – this is hate speech affecting trans*, BAME and LGBTQIA* students.

“At a professional level through my position as Marginalised Genders Officer, I am relieved that both the Union and the University are acting upon the zero-tolerance policy against discrimination in place at NUSU.”

They added:

“To those who thought using these slurs would be funny: it’s not. It’s hurtful. It’s disgraceful. It’s damaging.”

Following the Gameathon’s incident, the NUCAT’s committee has been receiving scores of emails and messages of a threatening nature.

“The committee has taken quite a backlash. Harry [a former president] received multiple messages and emails, and because of this he had to step down”, said Napier.

Errol Kerr, Students with Disabilities Officer, said:

“Whilst I’m glad that an investigation is underway, it’s unfortunate that it’s taken so long to recognise.

“There have been clear abusive comments being made towards Saffron, the racist and sexist language used and reports of threats being made towards the NUCATS committee.

“This shouldn’t have happened in the first place – changing attitudes and culture should have occurred before now.”

Napier added:

“We could not be more apologetic about what happened. It’s a shame that in five minutes out of the 24-hour event this happened, as we did raise quite a lot money for the charity. And we haven’t been able to advertise it yet.”

During the Gameathon 2017, NUCATS raised £2,705 at the last count.

The furore about NUCATS’ “disgraceful” language came a year after they won the Society of the Year award.

Update: Several key features have been updated with new information, including the total raised, length of the event and origins of the second set of images (13:39 22/03/2017)

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