Union Secretary resigns

Union Secretary Dom Merchant has resigned for ‘health reasons’.

Merchant, a 2nd year at New College, issued a statement, saying: “It is with great regret that I am resigning my position as Secretary for health reasons. I have greatly enjoyed my time on committee and am very sorry for the disruption this will cause to the committee and the members. However, I need to put my own well-being first and I am unable to continue in the role.”


St John’s Gender Equality Festival in transphobia U-turn

The committee for the upcoming St John’s Gender Equality Festival have released a statement apologising for the transphobic content of an article in the festival zine, leading to the resignation of three committee members who refused to add their names to the apology.

The article in question, written by Magdalen College LGBTQ rep Elsa Field, was entitled “What is a woman?” and expressed the view that “for a radical feminist to accept transgenderism is to accept the idea that society can create women and men, and that the very concept of a gender identity is one we can support.”

Field’s article goes on to criticise the “non-platforming” and “censoring” faced by self-identified “radical feminists,” arguing: “I object to a world where members of my community are routinely subject to rape and death threats because they refuse to acknowledge the womanhood of a male-bodied person who self-identifies as female.”

Condemned by OU LGBTQ Society trans rep Rowan Davis as “incredibly transphobic” in a Facebook status, and later in an OxStu Comment piece which accused Field of perpetuating “institutionalised transphobia,” the article was swiftly condemned by the Gender Equality Festival committee, who issued a joint statement last night.

The statement apologised “unreservedly” for the inclusion of the piece in the zine, stating that “we do not agree with platforming views in our zine that contribute to a culture of oppression and fear, even in a situation where the publication was trying to remain neutral.”

It did however attempt to deflect criticism by claiming that “sole editorial responsibility was maintained over the content of the zine and the copy was not seen by the committee at large before publication.” Ruth Maclean, the editor of the zine, as well as two other committee members – Jake Hurfurt and Max Ramsay – were not signatory to the statement. Committee chair Flora Sheldon later confirmed to the OxStu that: “those who have not signed the apology have been asked to step down from their positions.”

Hurfurt and Ramsay took a different line in a joint statement sent to The OxStu, stating: “we were not dismissed from the committee, we made an active choice to resign as we were told our positions would be untenable if we did not sign the statement released yesterday.”

“We disagree with the content of the article and wish to condemn all forms of transphobia and prejudice in the strongest possible terms,” Hurfurt and Ramsay continued, before explaining that “we did not sign the statement because we took issue with the characterisation of the author & editor in the apology, which we thought unfair.”

Fabian Apel, Magdalen JCR President, also distanced himself from the article, telling the OxStu: “I have read the article “What is a woman?” tonight and it does not represent the views of Magdalen JCR.”

Despite the furor, Field claimed that the article had achieved its purpose: “to promote and encourage discussion and debate of this issue.” She went on to quote her original piece, saying: “I do not deny the rights of trans activists to challenge my point of view. I certainly do not deny, or seek to belittle, the persecution and suffering of millions of trans people worldwide…I do object to the fact that radical feminists are being persecuted, subject to non-platforming, accused of bigotry and hate speech.”

“This is a very important topic that will no doubt be a continual source of discussion for the feminist community for many years to come, and I look forward to being a part of that debate.”

St John’s Gender Equality Festival will run throughout second week, and is set to include a “Trans 101” workshop delivered by OU LGBTQ Society trans reps Rowan Davis and Alyson Cruise.


Balliol vote to support free education march

The Balliol JCR has unanimously passed a motion in favour of a NUS demonstration in support of free education. The motion commits £100 to subsidise buses for Oxford students to attend the NUS demonstration in London on November 19th, and also assigns all three of Balliol’s votes in OUSU council to support the NUS motion.

The motion stated: “1. We face a clear choice in education funding: either our system is going to continue down the road towards an American-style model of private universities with uncapped fees, or we can take it closer to a German model of free, public and accessible education.

2. The German model of free education is preferable to the current UK system of high fees, debt, cuts to staff wages, and privatisation of the education system.

3. That we should join the campaign to fight for a better education system.”

The motion further argued that “tuition fees and marketisation have decisively failed to created sustainable funding for our universities” and that “fees act as a deterrent to access”. 

The NUS demonstration, which will take place under the banner of “Free Education: No fees. No cuts. No debt”, is being held in protest against the coalition government’s higher education policies, including the privatisation of the Student Loans Company and the tripling of tuition fees to £9,000. The demonstration is backed by a coalition of activist groups including the Student Assembly Against Austerity, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, and the Young Greens, and will follow a trade union demonstration on the 18th.

The passage of the motion was met with praise from JCR President Daniel Turner, who remarked: “Balliol JCR is very well placed to support the Oxford-wide movement for free education.  We have a very politically active student base and the funds to back them up.  It is absolutely right for the JCR to be political: we are the students’ union of Balliol undergraduates, and our stance on free education is unequivocal.

“The motion was not only passed unanimously, but was actually strengthened through a series of amendments doubling the amount of money the JCR is to provide and mandating Balliol’s OUSU votes to follow suit.”

Xavier Cohen, a second-year PPE student at Balliol, agreed, commenting: “Not a single person in the JCR general meeting – and I think there were possibly near to 100 of us there – made a principled stance against free education or the subsidising of buses to the national demo. The motion not only passed unanimously, but was made more radical by amendments. One amendment doubled the money from £50 to £100 and one amendment mandated all three Balliol reps for OUSU council to vote for the OUSU motion.

“I believe people voted to support the motion for principled reasons: we collectively recognised not only that education is a good thing and that people’s development matters, but that all should be able to access education regardless of wealth,” Cohen continued, before admitting: “This also isn’t a purely altruistic move: this is a campaign to make postgraduate education free, too.”

Activists across the university have responded to the news from Balliol positively, with the Oxford Activist Network circulating a draft motion for indivual students to bring to their JCRs. James Elliot, a second-year historian at Teddy Hall who drafted the motion, reported that: “In Oxford I’ve had interest from numerous JCRs, and I’m hoping the demo will be debated across the university. It’s an opportunity to show we’re serious about working with other unions to defend the education system from privatisation.”

Some on the Oxford left have criticized the OAN’s focus on the demonstration, however. Helena Dollimore, a third-year student at St Hildas and former co-chair of the Labour Club, commented: “you might be shooting the OAN/ lefty slate in the foot a bit by all going on the demo on polling day.”

Cohen admitted that the demonstration will clash with the elections, while stressing that “people have several days to vote and can still vote on the morning or evening of the demo. At a time when the Conservatives are thinking about uncapping fees, Labour is thinking about reducing them, and Germany has abolished them, this is a key political moment for the student movement to once again make the call for free education.”

Despite calls for unity within the student movement, it seems that various JCRs are continuing to jockey for the “crown of radicalism.” Cohen suggested that while “Wadham might talk the talk much better than Balliol, it appears that Balliol are the ones walking the walk.”

Turner struck a more conciliatory tone, stating that “we want to support students from all colleges to get involved in the fight for free education.  I’d hope there will be Christ Church Tories sat alongside Wadham Trots on the bus across to the capital.”


Plush Lounge assault defendant pleads not guilty

A teen has denied assaulting Teddy Hall student Jeanne Marie Ryan last March.

Abdulrahman Abdelsalam, 19, of Edgeware, London, pleaded not guilty to sexual assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm at Oxford Magistrates’ Court last week. He was arrested in March. 

The charges relate to the attack on Jeanne Marie Ryan in popular nightclub, Plush Lounge, on 22nd March.

The attack on Ryan led to widespread attention on social media after she posted a “#nomakeupselfie” showing the injuries she received.

According to Ryan’s report, she was groped on the dancefloor and when she resisted she was punched in the face. Her assailant then knocked her to the ground and proceeded to hit her a further six times when she attempted to stand back up.

Ryan said she was assaulted “for telling a guy in a club who groped me that it is completely inappropriate to touch a woman without her consent, I was beaten. He told me to “Smile!”, too.”

Ryan told Cosmopolitan: “He seemed really angry that he hadn’t knocked me out straightaway.

“I was bleeding profusely and as he walked off, I was yelling at someone to stop him from getting away but he just walked out of the club.

“We had chosen to go there because it’s an LGBT club and we just wanted to dance with no hassle. Everyone who goes there thinks of it as a safe space – it’s great for dancing and not being bothered by guys.”

After the assault, Ryan set up a Just Giving account and raised £16,000 for the Oxford Rape and Crisis Centre.

hiv ribbon

Oxford scientists trace HIV origin

Oxford University scientists have pinpointed the origin of the HIV strain that accounts for the current global pandemic as being Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The project, a report of which was published in the leading journal Science was a collaboration between scientists at Oxford and at the University of Leuven in Belgium traced the genetic history of the HIV group M strain which originated in approximately 1920 and was transmitted from a primate to a human.

The pandemic has infected over 75 million people worldwide to date. While the Kinshasa transmission was not the first case of human infection or transmission, it was the infection that was responsible for the spread of HIV throughout Africa, and later the world.

Professor Oliver Pybus of the University’s Department of Zoology stated “It seems a combination of factors in Kinshasa in the early 20th Century created a ‘perfect storm’ for the emergence of HIV, leading to a generalised epidemic with unstoppable momentum that unrolled across sub-Saharan Africa.”

Dr Nunio Fara also of the Department of Zoology described the virus’s progression across Africa, saying ‘Our genetic data tells us that HIV very quickly spread across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, travelling with people along railways and waterways to reach Mbuji-Mayi and Lubumbashi in the extreme South and Kisangani in the far North by the end of the 1930s and early 1950s.

“This helped establishing early secondary foci of HIV-1 transmission in regions that were well connected to southern and eastern African countries. We think it is likely that the social changes around the independence in 1960 saw the virus ‘break out’ from small groups of infected people to infect the wider population and eventually the world.’

The team stated that much more research needed to be done on the role played by social factors in the spread of the disease throughout Africa.


UKIP condom controversy at freshers’ fair

The Oxford Young UKIP society has come under fire recently for its decision to distribute condoms bearing the slogan “Don’t waste an election” at the University Freshers’ Fair.

Whilst some regarded the slogan to be no more than a harmless pun, a number of students have expressed concerns that the slogan trivialises the issue of consent. Alice Nutting, the editor of Oxford-based feminist magazine Cuntry Living, responded:

“If we go with the idea that ‘election’ is an attempt at a witty pun on ‘erection’, they seem to be suggesting that not having sex when you’re horny is some sort of missed opportunity, which undermines the importance of obtaining enthusiastic consent. A far more appropriate message would have been ‘Got consent?’, especially given the high prevalence of sexual violence in this country.”

She also stated that such actions from UKIP were hardly surprising. Concerning the society more generally, she stated:

“UKIP seems far too focussed on scaremongering the public with immigration myths and making sexist gaffes, and not concerned enough about the real issues, such as protecting public services, prioritising welfare spending, and building more affordable housing. Their recent election success is sadly unsurprising, given the failure of the three main parties to properly address our national living standards crisis.”

Jack Duffin, Chairman of the Young Independence group linked with UKIP, was keen to defend the society’s actions. He wrote: “Youth pregnancy and STIs are on the rise, we are keen to address this issue rather than ignore it. It is ridiculous that the word election is instantly being linked to rape. Rape is a serious issue and people trying to belittle this with pathetic political point scoring is disgusting.”

Ian McDonald, also a member of the Young UKIP group, tweeted about the “positive response received at Oxford freshers” but made no mention of the distribution of condoms. He wrote: “Its [sic] been great sharing policies on how #UKIP can help young people.”

One Mansfield second-year student commented: “It is fairly clear that, given the endemic issues surrounding respect for women at UK universities at present, a slogan in which female sexual agency is totally ignored and imperative male action is championed represents UKIP’s anachronistic disregard for this fundamental problem in our society.”

The Oxford Student

Oxford's Newspaper since 1991