Stop the Discrimination at University of South Wales Students' Union

by Kelsey Taylor

Stop the Discrimination at University of South Wales Students' Union

by Kelsey Taylor
Kelsey Taylor
I'm an American who studied at USW. I was VP in 2016 and was elected President in 2017. I was prohibited from taking up my role because of discrimination for international students and mental health.
on 04th March 2018
pledged by 36 people
Kelsey Taylor
I'm an American who studied at USW. I was VP in 2016 and was elected President in 2017. I was prohibited from taking up my role because of discrimination for international students and mental health.

Who am I?

I’m Kelsey Taylor, an American international student who studied at the University of South Wales. After graduating, I was the Vice President at University of South Wales Students’ Union. I spent the year fighting for mental health funding, raising awareness for women’s issues, and helping international students. After that year, I ran for President of the Students’ Union and won. I wanted to be President so that I could put these issues at the forefront of USWSU’s campaigns.

Even though I was elected, I never became the President. The union ignored its democratic mandate and did not let me sign my contract. I was met with discrimination based on my nationality and mental health.  

Why am I crowdfunding?

Believe me when I say I did not want it to come to a legal battle. I tried appealing, submitting complaints, and asking the University to intervene. All have been either ignored or pushed aside. In the end, my only option is to bring them to an employment tribunal on the basis of discrimination. 

I need to crowdfund because USWSU’s actions have left me in a terrible financial position. I don’t want that to stop me from fighting their decisions. 

After I was left unemployed, I was also homeless. I stayed with friends until I had to leave the country and return to the states. This was very expensive to do with no notice. I ran through most of my savings, leaving little to help with large litigation costs.

But I am also taking action against USWSU to challenge how their decisions could be used against all future international students and students with mental health issues. International students should be given an equal opportunity to engage with the students’ union. A students’ mental health should never be used against them. I need to fight back against this discrimination in an attempt to prevent it from happening to anyone else ever again at USWSU, or any other students' union in the country.

My goal of £3,000 is to cover costs leading up to my preliminary hearing in February. My stretch goal is to cover further costs as this case progresses to the final hearing. If I have any unused funds by the end, I will donate them to the Access to Justice Foundation or another case similar to mine on Crowd Justice. Any money donated will be going to a good place. 

What happened?

During my time as Vice President, I ran a motion at USWSU’s Annual General Meeting AGM). When I became an officer, I was forced to pay a large fee to renew my visa. They sponsor officers using the university’s Tier 4 visa, but Tier 4 puts the burden of cost on the student. My employment with the union does not give me student status, meaning I had no access to public funds or student loans. The visa costs were about £800, and the person has to maintain £2,000 in their bank account for a few months while the visa is processing. £3,000 is not an amount most recent graduates are able to afford, if they have it at all. My motion passed, making it so the SU would means assess any international student that becomes an officer.

Most students' unions in the UK will at least cover a partial amount to give international students an equal opportunity. Many unions cover the entire expense. The CEO of USWSU had frequently rebutted, “What if we had all international student officers? Would we pay for ALL of them? That’s not fair”. My goal was to open opportunities to these students and engage with a minority of our student population. Management ignored the AGM motion and advised me to ask our Trustee Board. They blamed me for not implementing the policy, even though I was granted special leave for bereavement/mental health for the month before the deadline, and I was not the only one responsible for this task. 

The Trustee Boards’ response was that they would not cover any part of the visa cost. They gave me 5 working days to prove I had £3,000 in my bank account.

I did not have £3,000. I wanted to crowdfund to pay for it, with the money going to good causes after the year was up, but the 5 working day deadline would not allow me to do so. Tier 4 applicants are allowed to show a parent’s bank account for proof, and thankfully my parents agreed to do this.

This is not as easy as it sounds, though. Even after the 5 working days, I was constantly in the University’s Immigration and International Student Advice office filling out my application and getting all my documentation together. I was also the only returning officer, so I was handling my normal responsibilities as well. All of this was happening during the training period for officers.

It is important to note that I was also seeing a counsellor at the university during this time as well. I was having mental health problems, which I had disclosed to the union via a doctor’s note, as well as a meeting with senior staff. All of this work stress was really piling up, so I was seeing my counsellor more than usual. My line manager messaged me asking if my counselling was really “that important” since he wanted me at the training. I insisted that I had to go.

After I submitted my parent's proof that I could apply for the visa, I had thought this was the end of it; I would just have to pay for it but everything was fine. However, Trustee Board sent me a final letter on the day that my VP contract expired, explaining that they had withdrew their offer of contract.

Why was the offer of contract withdrawn?

Three main reasons.

  • Since I “had the money all along”, I was a liar. And they don’t want a liar as the director of their Trustee Board.
  • By implying that I wanted to crowdfund the visa costs, I was trying to “bring the union into disrepute”. By asking for the money at all, they claim I was trying to “benefit financially from my position”.  
  • My “conduct and behaviour”, which they explain as missing training sessions and “distancing myself from senior staff”, also led to this decision. No examples were given.

They decided this all added up to gross misconduct. There was no prior notice to this at all. I was not told that my contract or “conduct” was up for discussion. A few hours after receiving this letter, I was unexpectedly unemployed.

If I had thought that I had done even one of these things, I would have been done with all of this. I genuinely think they were trying to find any reason to remove me from such a powerful position. They did not follow their procedures to remove me, and by not letting the elected president stand, they have disregarded their democracy. In their governing and charity documents, they state that the students have the ultimate control of the SU, but it is clearly not being followed.

They did not want to have precedence of funding an international student. Several people had even said they would be worried about future international officers this could effect in the Trustee Board meeting. I’m not the only student that has run into this issue either. Several years ago there was another international student that had won an election, but they could not even extend their visa. The union does not want to try to engage with international students.

They also do not support people with mental health issues, and do not want to campaign for it. I worked all year fighting for funding for mental health and aiding students with such issues. Not only did the union not support my efforts, but they ACTIVELY tried to stop me. I tried to start a petition for more counsellors at our university but was stopped by senior management. When the University was going through their consolation period following the announcement of the 139 job cuts, USWSU actively supported the university cutting their counselling staff. Students were writing to them DAILY saying how important it was for those services to not get cut, but they went ignored. For them to site "missing training" as gross misconduct when they were fully aware that I was in my counselling sessions is a low blow.  

What can you do?

If possible, please donate! Any little bit will really help. Most importantly, please share this so that others will see it. 

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