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Mar 18 2013

UCL looks the other way

Chris Moos sent me a new statement from the Concerned Students about the iERA event at UCL. It turns out that UCL wasn’t as uninvolved as it claimed.

Despite denial, UCL staff found to have actively enforced gender segregation

Following the events of March 9th, UCL has denied that its members of staff were allowing the enforced gender segregation on attendees, and issued a statement that alleged that UCL had responded appropriately to warnings from student, putting measures in place that only failed to protect students because the organiser iERA acted in counter of them (see annex). New evidence has now emerged that UCL has neglected its duty of care towards students to an unprecedented amount, with UCL staff not only tolerating, but also actively enforcing gender segregation.

An individual who identified herself as “Dr Aisha Rahman”, who claimed that she was “teaching at UCL Chemistry” and that she had “booked the room on behalf of UCL Chemistry”, said the segregation had been agreed with the university and repeatedly refused two students, Christopher Roche and Adam Barnett, access to the venue unless they complied with the segregated seating plan.

When confronted with the evidence that a UCL member of staff enforced, rather than opposed gender segregation, UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight said: “Miss Rahman is a student at UCL, not a member of staff, and the booking for the event was made by her in a personal capacity, not as a representative of UCL. I note that you are seeking an apology and I suggest that you take that up with Miss Rahman; we are unable to assist you in that regard as Miss Rahman was not acting as an agent of UCL.”

However, contrary to Mr Knight’s statement, new evidence shows that Miss Rahman is indeed a member of staff of the UCL Chemistry Department and listed in the UCL staff directory, and not solely a student (see annex).

Christopher Roche, one of the affected students said: “There is a great deal of confusion as to who exactly Aisha Rahman is. Whilst she claimed to be an academic in the Department of Chemistry, I have been informed that senior management at the university deny both her qualifications and seniority. Given that Ms Rahman is indeed a member of staff, the claim that she is not an agent of UCL does not seem entirely credible. No matter what the truth is, Ms Rahman has used a stated position in the Department of Chemistry to organise and run a gender-segregated event at the university. I understand UCL’s desire to minimise their responsibility in this matter, but from the information I have been given, it appears that they need to urgently reconsider this position”.

The fact that UCL are denying their affiliation to Miss Rahman raises many questions, especially given that Miss Rahman is now using her affiliation with UCL to spread libellous information about complainants Christopher Roche and Adam Barnett (see annex).

She what?

So I saw annex. The annex in question is a link to a post at The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies. There we find a comment with Aisha Rahman’s name on it. What does she say?

While on the matter did Chris Roche tell you that I had said to him and his friend that the reason for being involved in arranging this event was to create a safe and RESPECTFUL environment in which peoples views could be exchanged. It was a chance for muslims and atheists to come together and discuss their views. Chris Roche had and showed no respect for women’s rights, as it was the women who had put in the request for ladies only seating, for which we were trying to accommodate. As organisers we were trying to accommodate and be respectful to ALL. Just as we accommodated the request for mixed seating FOR ANYONE and not just couples as you have INCORRECTLY reported. We did not FORCE people to sit in any of the given areas. Chris Roche and his friend made it clear that they did not just want to sit in the ladies section (…which in the end was accommodated to prevent further delay to the event) but that he wanted to sit IN BETWEEN women, and not just any women but muslim women, clearly with a view to offend. At no point did he say that he wants a better understanding of views or to exchange ideas etc., If he’d given any such reason that he was GENUINELY interested in a discussion I would’ve happily asked if he and his friend would have any objection to sitting with me (as I qualify as female and muslim). There were a number of muslim women sat in the mixed area too. But the debate wasn’t what they were interested in, as proven by their actions. It’s pathetic really. He showed a complete lack of regard for women’s right, and was clear that he was insistent on causing a disruption and nuisance. I am really proud that my university are investigating these false claims that have been made – it is very clear what the agenda is here by yourselves in your distorted reporting and others jumping on the bandwagon. FYI there were 325 attendees in that auditorium, it was only 2 who were insistent on playing musical chairs.

What is all this nonsense about “not just any women but muslim women” as if “muslim women” are automatically recognizable? It’s a sly way of enforcing the idea that all Muslim women wear a Muslim costume.

At any rate, if Rahman really is on the UCL staff, she’s pretty alarming.

On top of that, despite the assurances of UCL, UCL security staff did not only fail to protect attendees from enforced gender segregation, but several attendees who approached UCL’s security personnel to alert them to the situation were indeed instructed to comply with the organisers’ policy of segregation (see annex).

Chris Moos, a student who has been in correspondence with UCL, asked for reassurance that the university has made it clear to Miss Rahman and the security guards that this conduct is inappropriate and that an internal investigation is being conducted into their actions. In response to that, UCL Vice-Provost Rex Knight, denied any responsibility of UCL to give these concerns due consideration, stating that “as regards to your other points I believe that they are covered by our public statement, your discussion with Dr Siddall and my earlier response.”

Chris Moos said: “This response is highly surprising, as many questions remain unanswered: Has Ms Rahman acted in accordance or against the instructions of UCL? Has she abused her position of power within UCL, whether imaginary or real, to enforce gender segregation? How is it possible that Miss Rahman was able to book a lecture theatre for an organisation that holds views contrary to the ethos of UCL on behalf of the UCL Department of Chemistry? Why are the attempts of Miss Rahman to spread libellous information about the attendees of the event, using again her affiliation to the UCL Chemistry department to lend authority to her false account of the events, not countered by UCL? UCL should do justice to the students who were affected by the failure of UCL to protect them and answer these questions.”

Halima, another student attendee said: “This issue is even more pressing as it is not an isolated case. Speakers that promote extremist views and create an intimidating atmosphere for student attendees speak regularly on campuses, including at UCL. There is a real need for UCL to address the problems we are raising, and these events have highlighted that UCL’s current procedures and security protocols are insufficient for dealing with these kinds of cases. UCL should thoroughly investigate the behaviour of its staff, retrain them if necessary and devise new procedures for making sure that all events at UCL are inclusive to all attendees.”

The students concluded: “We were seeking an apology from UCL for the way they failed to protect us from the enforcement of gender segregation. UCL should make it clear that their staff who were enforcing or tolerating segregation will be going through the appropriate disciplinary procedures. UCL should also provide the public and us with an answer to our questions, and not brush off the concerns that we are raising. It is surprising that UCL has not only neglected its duty of care towards students, but seems now unwilling to make sure that the events are investigated in a way that would prevent similar ordeals in the future.”

Annex: Link to Aisha Rahman’s entry in the UCL Staff Directory

Link to press statement of concerned students of March 11th

Link to Aisha Rahman’s libellous comments against Mr. Roche and Mr. Barnett

Screenshots available upon request

I thought UCL was doing better than that, and I was cheered to think so.

Vigilance is still required.

 

 

 

5 comments

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  1. 1
    sheila

    I would take a wild guess that Aisha Rahman is a postgrad student who does a little teaching. It is (or at least used to be) a common way to help post grads make ends meet – get them to help out at practical classes or labs for perhaps 4 hours a week so they can earn a little money. That would mean that she’s both a student and a member of staff.

    I really hope somebody’s got video from a mobile phone of this, so it’s not just “he said, she said”, which would make it very much easier for UCL to sweep it under the carpet.

  2. 2
    ibbica

    She’s a doctoral student, or at least she was as of Feb. 2012… it’s possible that she has defended her dissertation since then, in which case she’s certainly entitled to claim the ‘Dr.’ title. Even then, there’s a period of time between defense and official “graduation” where the university administration won’t necessarily seem to “know” that.

    That being said, I have noticed a fair number of students from Iran (not sure about other nearby countries) making the mistake of referring to anyone currently pursuing their PhD (“doctoral student”) as “Dr.”. I had assumed it was just convention there, but I admittedly never bothered to check.

    And yeah, it’s pretty typical for graduate students to act as markers/graders, teaching assistants, or even (non-tenure-track) instructors during their studies, and if they don’t have an external grant may be employed (by the university or by their supervisor’s laboratory funds) as research assistants, so yes they’re often considered both students and staff. Students are able to organize events, and to represent their department(s) in certain contexts. Now this event seems to have been organized on behalf of the “Islamic Education and Research Academy”, rather than the UCL Chemistry department, but university students are typically permitted to use their status as students to book rooms for events for reduced (or no) fees, so the space might have very well been booked under a Chem department affiliation claim.

    Yeah, it can get confusing. What’s not confusing is that gender segregation should not have been even suggested, let alone enforced.

  3. 3
    evilDoug

    Minor note: If you follow the third “annex” link, you can find Salahuddin, who has spammed assorted comment threads.

    I think ibbica has summed up the probable scenario very well.
    I would add that I had grad and undergrad TAs for courses I taught. I don’t think my Uni really regarded them as “staff” in the normal sense, though my department certainly valued them. Many were worth far more than their meager pay might have suggested. People in some of the positions ibbica mentions would be considered to be staff.

  4. 4
    shrunk

    @sheila

    I don’t think we need video evidence to determine what happened here. iERA representatives have themselves admitted that there was a “Women only” section in which men were not permitted to sit. For some reason they seem to think this is not gender segregation, but it is. And therefore contrary to UCL policy. That women were not forced to sit there does not change that fact.

  5. 5
    Queex

    As far as I can tell, the UCL directory also lists students. At least, it’s called a ‘staff and student directory’ when you navigate to it. So that annex doesn’t seem to prove what it’s contended to.

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