Oxford University students have published an open letter to senior University figures criticising their response to harassment allegations surrounding the death of student Charlotte Coursier.
Coursier, a postgraduate philosophy student at Teddy Hall, tragically committed suicide in June last year after a split with her boyfriend. The subsequent inquest also heard claims of her ongoing harassment from philosophy tutor Dr Jeffrey Ketland.
The 135 students who signed the letter attacked the way that the university dealt with the issue. The letter criticises the University for allowing Dr Ketland to remain in employment whilst the investigation of the allegations Coursier made in May 2013 was taking place. Dr Ketland is still employed by the university.
They pointed out that the alleged harasser had had “institutionally mediated contact with students since the university began its review.”
Dr Ketland has been teaching as a philosophy tutor at Pembroke College during this academic year.
It was also highlighted that the university had failed to provide adequate information to students who worked in Dr Ketland’s department. Graduate students in Philosophy, many of whom largely led the campaign for the open letter, were concerned that “the lack of comment [from the University] created a difficult atmosphere in the Philosophy Faculty.”
The letter also raised the concern that “some students now fear that harassment
charges are not taken seriously”.
Luke Brunning, a DPhil candidate in Philosophy, said that “many students felt unsafe to be around [Dr Ketland]”.
“The Department of Philosophy has held a meeting with graduate students to inform of the outcome of the inquest into Charlotte’s death and to discuss any questions arising.”
However students spearheading the campaign, Jacob Williamson and Rachel Fraser, said: “The University’s statement is potentially misleading. The meeting referred to did take place, but students were given no details not already in the public domain concerning any review or investigation undertaken by the University. Details of the coroner’s inquest were given to students during the meeting. The results of the coroner’s inquest were, at the time of the meeting, a matter of public record. No one representing the Department or University attended the inquest. All questions concerning particular cases were met with an insistence that no comment could be made.”
The letter also raised the concern that “some students now fear that harassment charges are not taken seriously”.
Luke Brunning, a DPhil candidate in Philosophy, said that “many students felt unsafe to be around [Dr Ketland]”.
Many students and faculty members were not fully, if at all, informed about the events. Some learnt of the situation from colleagues abroad, whilst others only discovered the truth when it was published in the Daily Mail.
“Something has gone seriously wrong when members of a University faculty are not aware when one of their graduate students commits suicide after reporting one of their colleagues for harassment,” said Brunning.
Jacob Williamson, who led the process behind the letter said that the written protest “began with an informal meeting of students in the Philosophy Faculty last Thursday evening. I guided a discussion and the desire to form a letter was clearly widespread.”
He said that the students had felt “obliged to act because of the lack of openness about this case and because we feel the University has not fulfilled its duty of care.”
The undersigned urged “the swift adoption of a suspension policy” in future cases of harassment reviews.
Sarah Pine, OUSU VP for Women, was a signatory of the letter. She said that “all students should have the right to live free from fear of abuse and sexual violence. Regardless of whether or not Ketland was guilty of anything, the University should have taken greater measures to protect students whilst they were investigating.”
Pine added that “the University has many options available for them to improve their current system”. She suggested that they could strengthen harassment policies to allow for anonymous complaints, train tutors to recognise behaviours that are abuses of power, train harassment advisors comprehensively, and prompt the counselling service to provide group sessions on relationship abuse.
She also called on students to “engage with groups like WomCam and It Happens Here who can highlight what constitutes abusive behaviour.”
The letter predominately was signed by graduate philosophy students, but included members of the OUSU Women’s Campaign, It Happens Here, and alumni of the University.
It was first published on the Feminist Philosopher’s blog on Wednesday morning.
“A University review concluded in October. Its purpose was to inform senior members of the University of the circumstances of Charlotte’s death and to advise on any future steps. The findings of the review remain confidential but University is continuing to consider the most appropriate action as a consequence.”
Award-winning social media access scheme OxTweet has come under scrutiny after it was claimed that some of its participants were presenting a negative image of life at the University.
Questions have been raised over the candid nature of tweets published by members of the scheme, ranging from, “Stats was no fun, no fun whatsoever… #horrific #oxtweet”, while another tweeted: “Still so fuckered I can’t walk”.
These were described by one undergraduate as “a bit awkward, considering this scheme is meant to promote a good image of the University”. Another stated that tweets such as, “referenced 27 different academic papers in essay – better be good enough for tutor… oh, this is oxford, your best is never enough #oxtweet” were not the most encouraging for potential applicants.
The online programme, which received funding from OUSU Council earlier this term, sees current Oxford students take to Twitter to post updates detailing their life at Oxford. The accounts are subject-specific and encourage questions from potential applicants. One of the most honest in its depiction of Oxford life is the Oxford Biologist account which regualrly features the after-effects of nights out and the joys of whiskey consumption.
The scheme has proven popular and together the accounts have hundreds of followers. It was described in a recent OUSU Council meeting as a “level playing field for anyone from any background and country to ask questions”, and its founder won a prize earlier this term.
Not all shared this view of the wildness of an Oxford degree, with one of the scheme’s participants claiming that most of its output is “monumentally dull”. The anonymous OxTweeter also claimed that other members of the scheme hold “niche” opinions, and suggested that potential applicants to Oxford could be turned away by OxTweet rather than inspired.
In comments made to The Oxford Student, the OxTweeter said “tweets about essay crises and tea” were unrepresentative of Oxford life.
“If I (and everyone else I’ve spoken to about this) was a potential applicant, and saw most of the twee, inane OxTweets about tea and minor illnesses, I’d run a mile,” he added.
Less candid tweets included “It’s somewhat reassuring to see that the jokes in parliament have changed little since 1628 #oxtweet” and “Having breakfast in the maths institute cafe while working on problem sheets. Resisting urge to get another chocolate brownie #nom #OxTweet”.
OxTweet’s founder and former Magdalen JCR Vice President Jamie Miles, who won an OxTalent Award for Outreach and Engagement for his work on the scheme, said honesty was “vital” to the success of OxTweet:
“OxTweet was created to provide an honest account of Oxford from all perspectives. An undergraduate degree is a three or four year commitment, so having information on all of the potential warts and wonders of university life is vital to ensuring that everyone makes the right choice for them,” he said.
The OxTweeter who made the claims that parts of the scheme were “monumentally dull” also believes most OxTweeters are “part of a small minority of students who don’t really interact with the wider student body, and who hold what might be described as niche opinions.”He claimed his own OxTweet account “presented a much more balanced, representative and honest commentary on student life at Oxford”, and that “a lot of tweets don’t even mention what kind of work the student is doing, so whoever is reading has nothing to engage with,” he added.
A group claiming to be the IRA has announced its responsibility for explosive devices sent to army offices in Oxford last week.
The group made the claim in a message received by a Northern Irish media outlet last Saturday.
In a statement, the police acknowledged that the group used a “recognised codeword”.
A spokesperson for Scotland Yard said: “We are aware of claims of responsibility for the devices that were sent to army recruitment offices in centres of England last week.”
“The claim was received on Saturday, 15 February […] the claim was allegedly made on behalf of the ‘IRA’”.
These reports follow events last Thursday in which four suspected explosive devices were sent to offices in Oxford, Slough, Kent and Brighton.
Police evacuated St.Giles, and closed off the road for a number of hours while bomb disposal units investigated the packages.
One of the devices reportedly bore a Republic of Ireland postmark and Downing Street announced late last week that the bombs possessed all “the hallmarks of Northern Ireland-related terrorism”.
An Irish News outlet reported an ‘IRA’ statement which said: “The IRA claims responsibility for the explosive devices that were sent to british armed recruitment centres in England. Attacks will continue when and where the IRA see fit.”
Following an end to its armed campaign in 2005, the IRA disbanded. However, the New IRA formed shortly before the London Olympics in 2012.
The bombs have sparked cross-party condemnation in Northern Ireland. Martin McGuiness, deputy first minister called it “an attack on the peace process”, adding “those responsible belong in the past. Their actions must be condemned.”
A No 10 spokesperson has said that four suspect packages sent to army recruitment offices, including one on St Giles’, Oxford, bear “the hallmarks of Northern Ireland related terrorism.”
Prime Minister David Cameron chaired an emergency meeting of the government’s crisis committee COBRA to discuss the packages, which were also found in Brighton, Slough and Kent.
The area around St Giles’ was first closed at around 10.30am after a suspect package was delivered to the army recruitment centre.
A spokesman for Downing Street said: “Seven suspect packages have been identified as containing small, crude, but potentially viable devices bearing the hallmarks of Northern Ireland related terrorism.
“These have now been safely dealt with by the police and bomb disposal units.”
Students at St Benet’s Hall were unable to re-enter the building while the cordon was in place, and access to other buildings next to the army recruitment centre near the junction with Little Clarendon Street was also limited. The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that this building was the site of the scare.
Traffic was being diverted via Banbury Road, and the police tape line was extended past St Giles’ Church Hall just before 1pm. According to Twitter, police helicopters were also seen above St Anne’s College.
Most of the police presence, as well as a bomb disposal unit from the Royal Logistics Corps, left the scene at 2.20pm and at around 3.30pm military staff were allowed to return to their office.
The contents of the packages have now been sent off for forensic examination.
Det Supt Stan Gilmour stated: “When a suspect package is reported we have a routine response which means we may need to evacuate the area if necessary until we can be sure it poses no threat to the public. Whilst this can cause concern and disruption for local communities, it is a necessary precaution until we know what we are dealing with.”
“Advice has been sent to the Royal Mail and to the MOD to ensure staff remain vigilant and contact police if they have any concerns about packages,” he added.
The incident follows other bomb scares in other Army Careers offices this week. A suspect package was found in Chatham, Kent on Tuesday, while another was safely removed from an office in Aldershot, Hampshire yesterday.
An Open Letter to the President of the University of Oxford Israel Society
A week ago, Ariel Hoffman was expelled from the University Israel Society for “violating the society’s aims,” or otherwise said, for expressing political views different from Society President Richard Black’s. This follows a recent change in Israel Society’s constitution allowing the President to “expel any member who breaks the rules.”
The aptly named Mr Black fails to understand the importance of freedom of expression within any organisation, and certainly in Israel’s political tradition. Under the new Israel Society constitution, at least 25% of Members of Israeli Parliament would also be banned from the Society for promoting a “non-Zionist” agenda as interpreted by Black’s leadership.
Indeed, Israel’s legal history shows a consistent constitutional commitment to free speech on all issues, particularly those concerning the Israeli-Arab conflict. Is it too much to ask that Oxford’s Israel Society adhere to these democratic principles?
The Israeli political right, currently in power, is obsessed over the international media image of Israel, while ignoring the most important things: strategic and moral outcomes of their policy. What they don’t realise is that no PR move can possibly hide a military oppression of three million Palestinians in the West Bank.
Black’s approach is no different: his Israel Society declares concern for “Israel’s image” to defend it from “Palestinian propaganda” attacks. Ironically, though, no single action undermined Israel’s image in Oxford more than Black’s political silencing.
Black’s society claims it “does not align with a particular political party,” but its actions betray obvious commitment to a right-wing agenda. The Society has strong links to StandWithUS, an international advocacy NGO tied to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. StandWithUS is a right-wing group that has for example actively campaigned against JStreet, a Jewish left-wing organisation that has criticised Netanyahu’s settlement policies. The heads of Israel Society owe an explanation regarding the nature of their relations with this right wing organization.
If Israel Society is indeed so committed to “plurality” as they claim, why do they not invite speakers from Jewish left-wing NGOs such as Yachad or Rabbis for Human Rights?
Black adopts the false idea that you can only be loyal to Israel if you attack Palestinians and their supporters: I think this is wrong. I am in favour of Palestinian freedom; this doesn’t make me less Israeli than Black (who incidentally is British). We must make a clear distinction between supporting the existence of Israel and supporting Netanyahu’s government and its oppressive policies.
The outcome is that Israel Society has been co-opted from a cultural society to a hard-line political advocacy group. In light of this it is no wonder that they dictate a uniformity of political opinions within the Society; any good PR strategist would confirm that without this, they would be unable to conduct an effective campaign.
Following the past week’s events in Israel Society, I met with many (if not most) Israeli students in Oxford. I am yet to meet a single one who shares Black’s hard-line position. Israel Society purports to represent Israelis in Oxford, but Black’s actions do not reflect the opinions of Israelis in this town. In fact, since Hoffman’s expulsion there are hardly any Israelis left in this Society.
This charade must end immediately. Black’s new constitution violates not only common sense but also Oxford University’s protocol on Freedom of speech. Israel Society must abolish this constitution which allows wanton exclusion of any member based on their opinions. Furthermore, they must revoke the exclusion of students kicked out last week. Alternatively, I propose they change their name to the “Netanyahu Support Society” and stop abusing the name of my country.
Finally, a word on Richard Black and James Elliott of Palestinian Society’s shouting match. Black accuses PalSoc of being “a vicious hub of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate,” while Elliott hits back saying “I don’t like being smeared as anti-Semitic, but I don’t bleed from it either… racist colonization of Palestine is the root of the struggle.” This is all absurd. What you both don’t realise is that the Israel-Palestine conflict is not a zero sum game. You can passionately support Palestinian liberty and an end to their oppression, whilst also agreeing that not only Arabs but Jews too deserve a state in their homeland. I appreciate your concern for the awful events occurring in Israel and Palestine; but please remember that the fires of hatred you ignite here in Oxford continue to blaze in Ramallah and Tel Aviv.
DPhil candidate, Lincoln College
A recent Oxford University study reveals that people who see the world from a lower perspective may experience more negative feelings of paranoia, distrust, and incompetence in comparison to others.
The study, funded by the Medical Research Council, required 60 female volunteers who had recently experienced paranoid thoughts but had no history of mental illness, to take the same virtual train ride twice.
They rode the first time at their normal height, and a second time from the vantage point of someone 10 inches (25cm) shorter, afterwards responding to two questionnaires.
The results, recently published in Psychiatry Research, indicate that women’s social comparison scores fell while their levels of paranoia rose—if only from a tally of 12 to 14.
“Height is taken to covey authority and we feel taller when we feel more powerful,” experiment director and Oxford Professor of Clinical Psychology, Daniel Freeman, told Reuters.
The results, echo earlier findings that link greater height to increased career and relationship success.
Engineering student Niels Hulgard said the results seem plausible—at least in reference to men. “It is common for men to want to be taller than women,” he said.
“I think it is likely that short men would be more likely to feel like a pushover or dominated.”
Yet according to Freeman, the results, (although only tested, in this instance, on women) might help us help others—even through virtual means.
“By helping someone to feel more positively about themselves we may be able to reduce their susceptibility to paranoid thoughts,” he wrote in a recent blog post co-authored for The Guardian.
“By allowing people with problematic paranoia to feel taller in VR social situations, we may be able to boost their confidence in the real world,” he added.
Freeman himself is 6’2”.
Watch the virtual train ride here.
Three Oxford students taking part in this weekend’s RAG Jailbreak are currently flying to Tokyo after they were given free tickets by Virgin boss Richard Branson.
The team boarded the 12.00pm flight from Heathrow to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. They are set to land tomorrow at 8.55am Japanese time after 12 hours in the air.
Team member Robert Harris, a PPEist at New College, posted on his raise2give page that “Sir Richard Branson has bought us free return flights to Tokyo! The flight takes about 12 hours and departs at 12.00 – flight number VS 900.”
He is travelling with fellow New College students Caitlin Place and Charlie Parkes. Before travelling, the team said their decision to participate was just “an excited half-plan to enter ourselves”, but ”the crushing pressures of essay deadlines, problem sheets and reading lists means that we will approach the task with considerably more enthusiasm than escaped convicts”.
The feat is believed to have broken Oxford Jailbreak records, with Oxford RAG posting on Facebook “OVER £28000 RAISED AND A TEAM ON ITS WAY TO TOKYO!!!”
Other Jailbreak participants have had mixed levels of success so far. Merton student Harry Bush hitched a lift to Normandy with a group of French people. Jesus student Bethan Roberts, however, tweeted that there were “No ferries from newhaven! Time to try portsmouth…”
You can follow the progress of the teams on Twitter using the hashtag #OxJailbreak.
Oxford’s two muggle Quidditch teams will be heading to Brussels next month to compete in an international tournament.
The Radcliffe Chimeras and the Quidlings – comprised of students from Mansfield, Green Templeton, Univ and Lincoln – will attend the European Regional Championships, hosted by the International Quidditch Association.
The Radcliffe Chimeras seized victory in the first ever British Quidditch Cup hosted in Oxford last year, but this will be their first competition abroad. They will be competing against 11 other teams, including those from France, Italy, and Spain.
The Radcliffe Chimeras are tipped for success, but they face a strong competition from the Paris Phoenixes, the current European champions, and the Paris Frogs, known for their aggressive tactics.
Ashley Cooper, captain of the Radcliffe Chimeras, said that some people dismiss Quidditch as “a group of weirdos doing their weird thing”, but that it is a tactically complex, physically demanding sport.
Cooper claims that “he’s not a fan at all” of the J.K. Rowling series on which the games are based, and that “while the first books are alright, they get progressively worse”.
Oxford is seen as an international hub for Quidditch, and last November held the first annual British Quidditch Cup. It saw 16 teams from across Britain and Ireland compete.
At the time, Cooper said the players “still like to have fun”.
Muggle Quidditch was founded in Vermont in 2005 and has since spread across the globe, currently being played by over 1000 teams in several continents. Oxford has had a Quidditch team since 2012.
Several students travelled to Leicester last weekend to try out for the British Team, and the Global Games later this year may see them off to Canada to compete.