This is an open letter for the attention of Exeter College's Governing Body and for the Rector
For the consideration of the Rector and Governing Body of Exeter College.
Before the Wilberforce Academy conference began, many of us voiced our objections to some of the views held by Christian Concern qua body politic. Many of us put aside our grievances on the basis that the conference would respect the College's equality policy, and we felt assured that just as their events were private, so our privacy would be respected, and further that they would show us respect when confronted with our peaceful right to protest. We feel that this basis has been undermined, and below we have detailed specific circumstances, most particularly in the hostile confrontation of the protesters and the distribution around College of graphic anti-abortion literature. Whilst it is not our prerogative to say whether the attendees were ever caught in flagrante delicto breach of the contract, we do not feel that enough was done to ensure they respected its spirit or word. Most pertinently, we believe that the indolence of College when it came both to responding to media criticism and to ensuring the behaviour of the conference participants has damaged our image and standing in the public eye and therefore betrayed what we feel to be one of the strongest Oxford LGBTQ communities. When a prospective seventeen year old candidate; when a journalist; when anyone, in fact, searches for our College via google news, the vast majority of stories on the first page will seem to represent us as homophobic and/or islamophobic.
In light of these grievances, we are hoping to ask for the cooperation of College in both mending our damaged image and ensuring that future conferences will not cause the same damage and hurt. We want to underline the fact that this is not a declaration of hostility; it is rather our plea for a positive, unified and palliative College reaction that comes from Governing Body and all three Common Rooms. We therefore ask the following:
- That the Governing Body issues a statement of regret for the offence and hurt caused to members of the College Common Rooms.
- That the College, as has already been discussed, begins a new vetting process for private conferences, and that it does so in all transparency so that we may be assured that our concerns as students have been taken seriously.
- That College make clear, or issue a statement to the effect that, this conference will not be welcomed in future years as a result of their behaviour and of general upset this year.
- That during conferences the JCR, MCR or other neutral spaces are available as recreational areas available only to students.
- That College add further details of the College's warm welcome of LGBTQ people to both the website and the prospectus.
- Nick Georgiou, undersigned, was approached by a conference representative during the peaceful protest on 25th March who, without provocation, made direct and explicit comparisons between Nick’s homosexuality and the sexuality of a paedophile and labelled him as 'immoral'. A representative from Thames Valley Police's HALT (Homophobia Awareness Liaison Team) present at the protest later contacted Nick and encouraged him to report the incident which has now been recorded by the police.
- Several students (undersigned) felt that the attendees breached their personal space, and though these instances may not be seen as confrontational, they are reported here as those affected deemed them to be inappropriate. Among them were students who were hugged and asked about their beliefs, asked 'whether they had been saved' and asked whether they wanted to pray for their injuries.
- We do not believe that the conference used proper disclaimers to disassociate themselves intellectually from the College. The lack of disclaimers is in direct contravention to the contract signed as well as the express request of Governing Body to the organization to include disclaimers on their official material. We have enclosed examples.
- After the conference, several anti-abortion posters and various flyers were found around College, in communal areas. They contained graphic images of aborted foetuses and hailed from an organisation ('Abort67') which has previously been prevented from distributing literature deemed offensive and therefore not protected under freedom of expression acts. We have enclosed photographs and examples.
- It has been noted that one of the talks held by Christian Concern was entitled ‘Understanding the Challenge of Islam’ and another 'Triple Jeopardy: Aggressive Secularism, Islamism, and Multiculturalism'. Although we admit the impossibility of totally vetting each speaker or the organisation’s dialogue, Muslim students seeing their religion described as a “jeopardy” naturally took offence.
- As the attendees were able to access the JCR, many students, most importantly finalists during their revision schedule, found the only area available to them exclusively was the library, and some felt that the noise in the JCR was excessive given that it was after-hours.
What We're Doing:
As students we feel great attachment and loyalty to our College and wish to ensure it is not seen as homophobic, racist or in any way discriminatory. We have therefore taken immediate action: having met during this vacation, we have drawn up this letter, set up a blog for Exeter's LGBTQ community and are looking to use all possible means, especially the internet, to talk about ourselves as a community.
We hope Governing Body will share our concerns and join in our activity healing old wounds and protecting against new ones, for the benefit of our students and staff, our graduates and undergraduates, today's members and tomorrow's.
We, the undersigned, acknowledge our support of the above petitions; where appropriate we confirm the facts here evidenced; above all we look forward to working with our College for the promotion of Exeter's diversity and the maintenance of a living and working environment that is caring and egalitarian.