Hustings for this year’s OUSU elections have been rearranged following the threat of a boycott by two slates.
Due to the lack of disabled access, members of the For Oxford slate refused to attend the hustings held at Hertford College last Sunday and those due to be held at Oriel College and University College this week.
In a display of solidarity, candidates belonging to the Right to Education slate also announced to The Oxford Student their plans to withdraw from future hustings where wheelchair access was not provided.
Following these withdrawals, both University College and Oriel College are to hold hustings at alternative accessible venues. However, the For Oxford slate has already forgone attending the husting at Hertford College, where a proxy message for their presidential candidate, Will Obeney, a student at Regent’s Park, was read out in lieu of his attendance.
According to Wadham postgraduate student Lindsay Lee, For Oxford’s candidate for Disabled Students’ Officer and a wheelchair user herself, the team decision not to attend the Hertford husting was not an attempt to “indict OUSU or the Common Rooms”.
Rather, members of the slate were unwilling to compromise the ethos behind their campaign – which is rooted in “accessibility in all its forms” – by speaking at an event that was “inherently closed to a proportion of the population”.
Speaking to The Oxford Student about their decision to join For Oxford in refusing to attend all future hustings held at venues without disabled access, Right to Education member and the opposing candidate for Disabled Students’ Officer, Emily Di Dodo, commented: “As Right to Education’s aim is to ensure that education is provided for and accessible to students no matter what their background or needs are, our candidates have withdrawn from these husts in solidarity as nobody should be arbitrarily disadvantaged.”
Since the changes to the location of the Oriel and University hustings, all candidates are now expected to attend.
Reflecting on the outcome of the events, Lindsay Lee stated that she is “very happy that University and Oriel are taking access seriously” and that the “experience only makes [For Oxford] more aware about the access problems Oxford has and reinvigorates [their] desire to fix them”.
Likewise, Emily Di Dodo stressed the urgent need for Oxford to “take steps immediately to make sure that every single building at this University is accessible to all”, suggesting a Disabled Students’ Campaign Committee as a possible means of achieving this goal.
With regard to Oriel and University’s decision to rearrange the hustings, For Oxford’s presidential candidate Will Obeney remarked: “We’re really pleased about the response our move has had, and hopefully it has made a few people realise how inaccessible – in the simplest form of the word – much of Oxford activity actually is.”
When contacted, Oriel JCR President Kit Owens stated that the original choice of venue for the Oriel husting was merely a stopgap until a more appropriate room could be found. Owens added: “Oriel JCR is dedicated to providing a welcoming and accessible environment for any and all disabled students and I offer my unreserved apologies to any affected.”
Martine Wauben, the Returning Officer for this year’s OUSU elections, has given assurances that any students who were unable to attend the hustings held at Hertford due to the lack of accessibility will be able to attend the general hustings at Wadham, St John’s and Balliol to find out about the candidates, their policies, and their manifestos.