Hong Kong and Taiwanese students feel that demands they made of Sheffield Students’ Union last week regarding the International Students’ Officer’s position haven’t been met, and as such say they are now likely to campaign for her resignation.

The decision was made following a meeting of the Student Executive Committee (SEC), which is made up of the eight elected student officers, this afternoon (Monday). The meeting was convened to discuss demands made in an ‘energetic’ meeting on Friday 14 February, for the SU to condemn posts made by Sissi Li on her personal WeChat account, as revealed in Forge Press last week.

Students from Hong Kong and Taiwan told this paper that the posts had left them feeling “shocked” and “vulnerable’” on campus.

A statement from SEC, which was released today on the Students’ Union website, said: “In August 2019, the Students’ Union received some complaints regarding posts that Sissi had made on her personal WeChat account. These posts were published in response to complaints she’d received from students about how the university categorised Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries on their website.

“The complaints went through the SU complaints process which was concluded in August. 

Since then, the WeChat post in question has since been misinterpreted to suggest the International Students’ Officer was encouraging mainland Chinese students to report those who chose to identify as ‘Taiwanese’ or ‘Hong Kongers’ on official university forms to Chinese government officials.

“Sissi has clarified that the term “official” is referring to the University, rather than the Chinese Government.

Regardless of this, SEC recognises that the comments Sissi made weren’t appropriate, and were without full consideration of the political implications, given her representative role for all international students at the University. These particular personal views expressed back in August by Sissi are not representative of Sheffield Students’ Union. 

The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Students’ Union are global organisations. Now more than ever we have to find ways to evolve as we learn about other cultures and communities from around the world, as well as managing global political unrest within the microcosm of our University campus.

The demands made in the meeting between Jake and five other students were understood to be non-negotiable, and Dominic Fairbrass, the Medicine Councillor, said they will now be calling publicly for Sissi’s resignation, as they feel their demands have not been met. It isn’t clear what form this action will take.

He expressed disappointment at Verity’s decision: “We are incredibly disappointed to see that Jake Verity has proved himself unwilling to address the concerns of minority groups on campus, many of whom are living in fear as a result of statements made by the officials of his Union. His lack of leadership and ability to hold his subordinates accountable has caused immeasurable damage to the reputation of our Student’s Union, as well as his personal legacy as President.”

“Due to Jake Verity’s inability to accept our modest and reasonable demands, we have no choice but to call for the resignation of International Student’s Officer Sissi Li with immediate effect.

“From this moment forward, we will embark upon a very public campaign calling for her immediate resignation.”

Dominic Fairbrass then went on to apologise to students who may be affected by protest action, stressing that: “the safety of minority students and their right to freedom of expression on campus is of paramount importance.

“I encourage all students to join our calls for the resignation of Sissi Li and to take an active role in protesting this decision taken by our Students’ Union. If we are not willing to fight for the rights and freedoms of the oppressed within our society, we are not deserving of those rights or freedoms either.”

Sissi Li, in an initial statement provided to Forge Press, apologised to anybody who felt concerned by posts she made, stressing her commitment to representing all international student voices at the University and Students’ Union.

In a further statement, following the statement from the SU President, she said: “I’d like to reiterate my sincere apologies for these posts, which I deleted in the summer. It can be difficult navigating so many different political opinions, and it’s been a steep learning curve during my time so far as International Students’ Officer. 

I value all our international students, who can speak to me on any matters important to them. I am committed to representing you all – no matter where you are from or what you believe. I’ll continue to work hard to improve the international student experience over the coming months.”

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