Cat Turhan, president of Warwick Students’ Union (SU), has caused controversy after posting a Facebook status which included a photo of a torn Conservative election poster.
Ms Turhan commented on her personal Facebook account: “Broken Britain? We’ll give you fucking broken Britain Mr Cameron” and also posted an image of a Conservative party poster which had been torn down.
Ms Turhan has since updated her status and has confirmed that she was not responsible for tearing the poster down.
She has also claimed that she was unaware that the poster was from an SU society.
The poster, which had been put up by the University of Warwick Conservative Association (UWCA) outside the library, promoted students to vote Conservative on 7 May.
It’s not the University doing this – they think it’s great that there is so much student engagement with the General Election
This followed other campaigns by on-campus political groups, which have included stalls promoting political parties.
On 27 April, Warwick’s deputy registrar Jo Horsburgh, contacted all political societies providing guidelines for the election period.
This gave political societies permission to display party promotional material so long as it did not cause damage to University property.
Some students alleged that the University may have been involved in the removal of the UWCA’s poster.
Isaac Leigh, Societies officer, emailed the UWCA regarding concerns. He stated: “It’s not the University doing this – they think it’s great that there is so much student engagement with the General Election.
He added: “There have been sightings of a particular individual going around taking posters down, and the whole Estates team have been briefed to identify the person responsible.”
In response to the concerns raised by students, Ms Turhan told the Boar: “The ‘vandalisation’ of posters in question has in fact been misreported.
“The SU received a complaint from the University yesterday regarding the society in question’s postering of external building walls, requesting that they not do this and stating that any future posters they put up would be taken down. This message was relayed directly by us to the society, who apparently chose to ignore it.
I am as entitled to post these on my own personal Facebook account as anyone else is to disagree with them.
“As I understand it, these posters were removed by members of the Campus Security team just prior to as I happened to be passing the Library. I took a photo of this and posted it to my personal Facebook account – not a ‘public’ forum.
“I have not been quiet about my political opinions, nor will I apologise for holding them.”
She added: “I am as entitled to post these on my own personal Facebook account as anyone else is to disagree with them.”
“Responsibility to represent the values of the SU”
James Anderson, president of UWCA stated: “Cat Turnhan is more than welcome to offer her opinions in her own personal space, I would never challenge that fact or try and make the argument that tearing down our posters is a violation of free speech for Conservatives.”
However, Mr Anderson highlighted that Ms Turhan had a responsibility to represent the values of the SU.
He said: “The problem is that Cat Turhan, in her public and private capacity, is a representative of the Students’ Union and its values.”
“The president of the Students’ Union posting such a photo, as well as its subsequent spread across the internet, was irresponsible.”
“Contradicted SU election guidelines”
Ellie King, an exec member of UWCA stated: ”I am greatly disappointed that the president of the SU has specifically contradicted SU election guidelines that the association has adhered to in their campaigning.”
Ms King also also raised concerns about Ms Turhan “endorsing such an attack on the free speech on the UWCA and conservative leaning students, despite being such a strong advocate of welfare and freedom.”
She should keep these views private in order to maintain student unity
This event follows previous concerns, raised earlier in the year regarding the lack of free speech at Warwick.
In March, Spiked! magazine placed Warwick SU in the lowest rank for freedom of speech.
Life Sciences PhD student, Matt Pookie Teft, said: “I think as a public figure she should have been more mindful to how it could have been perceived and she should be more aware that, whilst it was on her personal Facebook, there really isn’t any such thing as a personal Facebook anymore.”
Luke Breen, a second-year History undergraduate, commented: “Whilst I don’t object to Cat’s personal political views, I believe as the President of the SU, and ‘alleged’ representative of the whole student body, she should keep these views private in order to maintain student unity.”
Mr Breen added: “I think the last year had definitely seen a greater degree of student engagement in politics, especially with the Free Education fiasco earlier in the year. I think student engagement is fantastic, regardless of which political party/views that you support. The issue arises when ‘engagement’ becomes vandalism/disruption/intimidation.”
Caitlin Griffith Otway, a fourth-year French with International Studies student, commented: “We’ve got the chance to save lives tomorrow and if the president of the SU wants to voice her opinion, then so be it, even if the way she’s gone about it may not have been appropriate for the president of the SU.”