The UCL student paper reports on Saturday’s exciting events.
The event, held as part of Hamza Tzortzis ‘Islamic Awareness Tour’, featured the public speaker Tzortzis debating against cosmologist and professor of Physics, Lawrence Krauss on the topic of ‘Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?’ However, attendees soon began to question the organisation of the event when an email sent by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) and the organisers of the event, informed attendees that seating allocation would be decided by “when the ticket was booked and gender”. However, when concerned students contacted UCL, they were assured by Fiona McClement, the university’s Equalities and Diversities Adviser, that all attendees were “free to sit wherever they feel comfortable”, and that this had been made clear to IERA.
And yet when the time came, this turned out not to be the case. Separate entrances, and seating separated into men’s, women’s, and a “mixed” area for couples…
…which is not what Fiona McClement told Chris Moos.
We have been in contact with the event organisers and made it clear that UCL will not permit enforced gender segregated seating. All attendees are free to sit wherever they feel comfortable. If some female and male attendees choose to sit in separate areas, that is of course fine, however it is expected that there will be a large mixed area where anyone can sit.
A large mixed area where anyone can sit. Not couples; anyone. (But, as I pointed out at the time, the first two items aren’t entirely compatible. If “wherever they feel comfortable” for some people means “where there are no women/men” then all attendees are not free to sit wherever they feel comfortable. The two hopes can’t be combined in one space. A choice has to be made. Fiona McClement unfortunately punted the choice.)
Back to the student paper.
Christopher Roche, who had taken a seat in the same aisle as female attendees, said that he was “immediately instructed by security to exit the theatre”. He was then told that the seating policy had been given to IERA by UCL, an issue which was raised after Dr Aisha Rahman, who identified herself as a member of UCL’s Chemistry Department, suggested that the university had agreed to the segregation. After asking to return to his seat, Mr Roche was told that security would remove him from the premises for “refusing to comply with the gender segregation”. The organisers’ security staff then attempted to physically remove both Mr Roche and his friend, Adam Barnett, from the theatre, before Professor Krauss threatened to leave if the two men were removed. The organisers allowed Mr Roche and Mr Barnett to sit near the women’s section at the back of the room following the Professor’s intervention, who himself stated that he had been told in advance that there would be no segregation.
But apparently “Dr Aisha Rahman” isn’t Dr Aisha Rahman but grad student Aisha Rahman.
Mr Barnett described the situation as “a scandal”, stating that “for a London university to allow forced segregation by sex in 2013 is disgraceful”. His belief that the segregation was a violation of UCL policy was also held by Chris Moos, president of LSE’s Atheist, Secular and Humanist Society who had made enquiries to UCL about the nature of the seating before the event. Mr Moos stated that many students were “shocked” to see that although concerns as to the seating arrangements had been raised with UCL beforehand, the organisers still created “a threatening and divisive atmosphere that was not inclusive to all attendees”.
A little bit of Talibanism in our own dear Bloomsbury.
UCL’s Provost, Malcolm Grant, released a statement addressing the event, stating that IERA’s intention to segregate the audience was “directly contrary to UCL policy”, and that it had been made clear that the event would be cancelled if the organisers attempted to enforce any such segregation. Professor Grant then went on to say IERA’s intentions were “contrary to UCL’s ethos”, and that any further events involving them on UCL’s premises would not be allowed.
Closing his statement by reiterating UCL’s policy of equality, Professor Grant maintains that segregation should not have been enforced, and that this kind of behaviour was not acceptable at UCL which prides itself on its equality.
Good. All other UK universities please note.