It speaks volumes that the two articles already published by the Sphinx on the subject of the LMSS have been done so anonymously.
In the email circulated to students of the medical school by the vice chancellor and the chairman of the Guild of Students, ‘employability’ and ‘good names’ take centre stage in the explanation for the blackballing of a society older than the university itself; a society which has ‘failed to keep pace with the views and expectations of the modern world’, and ‘perpetuate[d]… attitudes which are no longer seen as acceptable in the modern medical profession.’ Not just the good names of the Guild and University, it seems, are at risk here. Such strong condemnation might suggest that the society has been involved in some pretty severe malpractice, and if this were the case, clearly it would be dangerous to have your name penned to a piece in support of the LMSS. Perhaps the medics have been divining humours in patients or bleeding them? Maybe they’ve been holding seminars on eugenics? Could they have been dispensing Thalidomide to pregnant women?
Could it have been to do with the infamous and deeply moronic Smoker incident in 2014?
None of these things, as it happens. The Smoker debacle certainly provided a good excuse, and set the wheels in motion, but the repercussions for the society had already been dealt out long before yesterday’s announcement. In a letter addressed to all medical students, the LMSS has claimed that a thorough investigation into the society by the Guild and University in the wake of those sanctions led to a series of recommendations concerning societal practices, ranging from the abolition of traditions, such as ‘lecture shout outs’, to the pronouns used in the society’s constitution. The LMSS, the letter continues, complied immediately with all recommendations with the exception of two: the annual Men’s and Ladies’ Dinners, which were considered unacceptable owing to their exclusivity based on sex, and the financial autonomy of the society. For full details, see the first anonymous article if you haven’t already.
One wonders what, exactly, was so wrong about these dinners. From what I’ve heard they were charitable affairs and raised plenty of money for good causes, and being charity events, were exempt from the 2010 Equality Act. It’s not as if anything especially debauched is alleged to have happened at any of them; to the best of my knowledge, not a single pig’s head has been propositioned. Perhaps the wine at the Ladies’ Dinner had corked? Maybe the salmon course arrived on a slate? Did someone accidently pass the port to the right? Those would clearly be reasons for banning the dinners and the society to boot, but again, no evidence is forthcoming. As for the financial autonomy, if this is really the case, it amounts to little more than a land grab by the Guild. What possible business could they have in taking control of these finances? I have been told that the LMSS’s accounts are not insignificant but unfortunately can’t verify that beyond the poor devil that shared it with me, and they (again) were insistent that I shouldn’t reveal their identity. That said, whatever figure you had in your account, would you feel confident handing it over to the sort of bed-wetting neurotic who launches an investigation into the pronouns in your constitution? Why would you put all that hard work and effort in, over the course of many years, to ensure the financial stability of a society, only to leave your cash open to confiscation by a politically minded group whose priority is clearly not your members?
Here’s the thing. Let us suppose that the actions of the LMSS had been outrageous. Let’s say they’d been running an underground cockfighting circle or selling morphine on the sly (and on a separate note, if anyone has been, please, give me a call). It doesn’t even have to have been that farfetched. Let’s say they’d refused to comply with the Guild and University in the aftermath of Smokergate.
How can the Guild or the University hope to influence the practises of the LMSS by washing their hands of it? If the culture surrounding this society is so abhorrent, how can refusing to acknowledge its existence change that culture? What about the students (of whom there are plenty) who would like to see change, and looked to the Guild and the University for help? Are they now to be cast into the wilderness with the rest, left to fend for themselves?
Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: the LMSS isn’t going away. The majority of its members, the vast majority of its members, are devoted to it. They love the opportunities it offers to them, the sense of camaraderie, the academic assistance it provides, the charitable work, the glamorous (and less glamorous) social occasions and, yes, they love Smoker too. Why should they be punished? Some of their traditions are quirky and risqué, but where, actually, is the harm in that? The throwing of coins at the treasurer during meetings might have someone’s eye out, but fortunately, being medics, they are not unprepared for those situations. Most of them couldn’t give a toss about gender segregation at the annual dinner. Does that make them bad people? How can it, when they are training to save other people’s lives? Presumably they don’t plan on exclusively treating just one gender when they leave University? Given the spiralling level of debt they incur, and the ever dwindling salaries they face, it’s not like they can be in it for the money anymore, either. Yet by cutting ties with this society, these people are essentially being told by the powers that be ‘we don’t really care about you’. Which is exactly the sort of message we should be handing out to medical students, just as junior doctors are being fisted up the urethra by Her Majesty’s Government.
The LMSS will continue to exist, it will continue to outrage and polarise, but it will also continue to do tremendous good, too. Its accounts remain intact, allowing it to operate beyond the sphere of the University. Free from the clutches of this authority, however, there will be no way of changing the things about it that might genuinely need changing, and that’s another thing. For those who wanted to change the more unseemly habits of this old institution, for those who felt unhappy and isolated at the ‘drinking culture’ and at Smoker, the chief means of doing so has now gone. By suggesting that they will establish a new society for medical students, the Guild have placed a target on the backs of those who fall into this category. By all means, these people can join this society, and try to create some progressive medic Utopia, where everything exists in a safe space with more pronouns than people. They will, however, face social ostracism. Who, really, is going to raise their head above the parapet, give their fellow students the finger, and sprint headlong into the firing line? And if some do, and reach the Promised Land, what then? What kind of inclusive student experience awaits these people? I daresay, not a good one, as these unfortunates will have created segregation within the medical school in a far more meaningful way than the Men’s and Ladies’ Dinners ever did. This, again, is an example of the powers that be essentially abandoning a whole group of students, one that really needed bodies within the university to stay the course and maintain dialogue with the LMSS.
The argument will be made somewhere, I’m sure, that this all amounts to a Stalinist swipe at ‘freedom of expression.’ Whilst the banning of Smoker (which in the grand scheme of things is not such a loss; have you been to see LUDS recently?) and ending gender segregated dinners might seem that way, what this actually is is the equally sinister airbrushing of an image to change history. People outside the society wanted more power over it to change it to fit their politically correct vision, rather than let members run their own affairs. When this was not immediately forthcoming, the LMSS was sent to the Gulag. Meaningful change, in this instance, regardless of whether it was ever warranted, could never have been achieved by issuing a long series of demands and impossible deadlines and, when these were not met, going off in a sulk and refusing to cooperate. Yet that is what has happened, and it is the medical students who have lost. The majority of them, content with the LMSS, have essentially been told ‘you are wrong, and you get no say in the matter’. The already isolated minority who wanted change have been given clear indication that they are now, more than ever, on their own. It’s difficult to see, frankly, how the situation can now be rectified. It doesn’t matter which side of the divide you fall on; the scalpel wound runs deep. What are we left with? Students penning anonymous articles on Liverpool’s second (probably lower) most popular student news outlet, fearful of the repercussions if they are discovered.