Less than a week after reaffiliating with the University, Oxford’s Conservative Association has become entangled in a scandal over allegations of sexism at one of its events.
Vitus van Rij, a Tory student from King’s College London, allegedly shouted “Kitchen, kitchen, shush up woman, go back to the kitchen” at a female speaker during OUCA’s Port and Policy event on Sunday night at the Oxford Union.
Following van Rij’s remarks, two OUCA members stood and condemned his comments as “despicable and unacceptable,” and Oxford Union President Laura Winwood assured the crowd that “misogyny is not tolerated” on Union premises.
Jocky McLean––an OUCA member who demanded an apology from van Rij in front of the 120 member audience––said he heard van Rij tell the female speaker, Isabella Burton, to stick to “pans and brooms” instead of giving speeches about politics.
“As she continued, [van Rij] started getting louder and louder in an attempt to shut her up. As soon as she finished, I stood up and asked him to apologise to her, and pointed to his disgusting behaviour,” McLean said.
Van Rij left the room after coming under fire from McLean and Winwood for the sexist statements, but returned a few minutes later to his seat.
Winwood said she and others asked van Rij to leave Union premises. The President of the UCL Conservative Association then escorted van Rij out of the room, and he did not return for the remainder of the night.
“The individual was promptly ejected from the room, order restored and the debate continued,” Winwood said.
Burton, the female OUCA member at the podium when van Rij allegedly made the remarks, said she heard about the commotion after it happened and was highly offended by van Rij’s comments.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
Multiple attempts to reach Van Rij by email and phone over the course of a three day period proved unsuccessful this week.
In addition, a Facebook account in van Rij’s name disappeared from search results after a reporter from this paper attempted to contact him via the social networking site on Monday afternoon.
On his Facebook profile, van Rij listed his favourite quotation as one from Hendrik Verwoerd, a pro-Apartheid Prime Minister from South Africa. The quotation calls for “the preservation of the white man and his state.”
Numerous students have also expressed concern that the way in which van Rij presented himself at the event might have been a deliberate nod to Adolf Hitler.
David Thomas, an OUCA member who attended the event and sat near van Rij, said van Rij was sporting a “Hitler-esque” groomed mustache and slicked back hair.
“It looked as though he was deliberately trying to imitate Hitler with his appearance,” Thomas said.
OUCA President Natalie Shina refused to comment on van Rij’s appearance.
Shina also said OUCA did not invite van Rij to the event.
Shina said van Rij tagged along with members of the Conservative Association of University College London, who she had invited to Oxford to celebrate OUCA’s reaffiliation with the University.
“The UCL Conservatives invited him without my knowledge,” Shina said.
But UCL Conservative Association President Will Hall also denied inviting van Rij.
“We didn’t invite him or anyone else from King’s College, but he may have found out about it from our Facebook group,” Hall said.
Hall said the incident demonstrates a “systematic failure” on the part of the society in ensuring that only invited individuals are allowed to attend events.
“Every group has at least one or two abhorrent individuals, and in the future we need to find a better way to identify ours and ban them from attending events,” Hall said.
OUCA President Shina initially refused to acknowledge the incident took place, claiming in an email on Monday that neither she nor 29 other OUCA members in attendance heard anything offensive said.
But after being presented with eyewitness evidence from a reporter, Shina acknowledged the derogatory comments may have been uttered.
Nine students have confirmed to The Oxford Student that they heard van Rij shout the sexist remark.
But many OUCA members refused to talk after the group’s President issued what one senior OUCA member called a “gag order” preventing members from talking about the event.
“She basically told us all to say that we hadn’t heard anything,” said the member, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
Poppy Simister, an ex-officer of OUCA who overheard van Rij’s remark, said she heard about the silencing order from other members and didn’t think it was a good move for OUCA.
“I don’t really understand the strategy of telling everyone not to talk, especially in a case like this where both OUCA and the Union dealt with the incident fairly quickly,” Simister said.
Shina dismissed the claim that she was deliberately gagging members from speaking, and said the society’s constitution dictates that as President only she is allowed to talk to the press.
Shina said both OUCA and the UCL Conservative Society have banned van Rij from all future events after conducting an internal investigation.
Michael Rock, president of the national party’s youth wing, said he did not think the evidence was strong enough to launch an investigation at the time.
Despite having been informed of the Union President’s statement on the event, Rock said he thought the allegations were simply part of a calculated attack on OUCA: “It seems to me that people are just making accusations to make OUCA look bad.”
The claims of sexism come at an unfortunate time for OUCA, which finally won back the “U” in its name and regained formal recognition from the University last Friday. The University had cut ties with OUCA last August after it was revealed that a member told a racist joke at the society’s officer hustings.
A spokeswoman for the National Conservative Party said the party was looking into the allegations, and wanted to stress OUCA is in no way affiliated with the Tory party nationally.
A University spokesman declined to comment on whether proctors would launch an investigation into the incident, or if the University would continue to allow OUCA to use the University’s name.