In Depth

Why Cambridge wants to ban military personnel from freshers’ fairs

Student union branded ‘pathetic’ after suggesting firearms may have ‘triggering’ effect on some attendees

Cambridge students are supporting a bid to ban military personnel from attending freshers’ fairs at the university over fears that their presence could pose a mental health risk.

Members of Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) passed a motion to prohibit societies from bringing firearms to the annual fairs after welfare and rights officer Stella Swain suggested that some people may find such weapons “triggering”.

The presence of military personnel carrying firearms would indicate “implicit approval of their use, despite the links between military and firearms and violence on an international scale”, the motion stated.

Swain added that the fairs should not be a place for “military organisations to recruit”, The Telegraph reports.

“The presence of firearms and military personnel at [a] fresher’s fair is alarming and off-putting for some students, and has the potential to detrimentally affect students’ mental welfare,” the motion continued.

The passing of the motion, with 75% in favour, has been met with derision from both within and outside the university, says youth news site The Tab.

The proposal “proved both contentious and confusing” during the union debate prior to the vote, with one person commenting that “the whole thing seems like a giant mess now” and another asking “for clarity on what the motion is for”, the site reports.

A committee member from the Cambridge University Rifle Association told union members that she found it “disgraceful” none of the societies affected had been directly contacted before the meeting.

Ben Hodgkinson-Toay, an engineering finalist and platoon commander at the Cambridge University Officer Training Corps, told The Telegraph that the motion was an “unfair attack” on students who choose to join such societies. 

Meanwhile, the former commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, has dismissed the motion as “pathetic, to say the very least”.

“I would suggest this is nothing to do with the military as such. It is just yet another effort, as we have seen in so many of these student motions at various universities, to undermine British society,” Kemp told the newspaper. 

“Without the Armed Forces these students wouldn’t be able to study, they are only able to because the country has been protected and defended by the British Army.”

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Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer has also criticised the students who passed the “ridiculous” motion, saying: “This kind of attitude is quite bizarre to normal working people who have no understanding of how you can behave in this way.

“I look at some of the things put through and I really just think they are so far removed from the lives of the people I represent. The point is that they are forcing their views on other people and the lack of tolerance among the supposedly tolerant.”

In 2018, the CUSU voted down a motion to promote Remembrance Sunday, amid fears about the “glorification” of conflict. 

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