Students speak out against OUSU

Over a hundred students have signed a letter criticising OUSU for their handling of the visit of Marine Le Pen to the Oxford Union.

The letter, published online, states that OUSU Council “covertly and indirectly supported a protest which – as was widely known – was going to be attended by groups which have a history of violence and intimidation”.

The letter particularly criticises OUSU’s response in the wake of the protest, claiming: “a senior OUSU Officer defended an event which put Oxford students in physical and psychological danger”.

Since being published online on the afternoon of 16th February, the letter has been signed by over 200 individuals, mostly students of Oxford University.

Second-year PPE student Jan Nedvídek wrote the original text of the letter. He commented: “For me, OUSU has always been a distant institution, and I’ve never felt the need to get engaged with it. However, after its Council supported an event which put me and many of my friends in physical danger, I felt things had gone a bit too far. Something had to be done.

“If OUSU officers are to represent us as students, they must care about the welfare of all students, regardless of their political views.

“The reason I wrote this letter is that I feel that the majority of Oxford students share my views on freedom of speech and recognise how hugely important it is to our society and our university. I wanted to enable my fellow students who, like me, are outside the official OUSU structures, to express their frustration over the fact that OUSU Council does not seem to share this view”.

A response to the open letter, written by OUSU President Louis Trup, was published on OUSU’s website later that evening. Within the response, Trup said he was “grateful” for students’ decision to write a letter, and added that he wished to “unequivocally condemn any violence that took place outside the Oxford Union on the 5th February”.

The response went on to note that OUSU had referred to a protest organised by “student groups”, which was separate to the protest organised by UAF going on at the same time.

Trup added: “I strongly believe that OUSU made as much effort as possible to ensure that students on either side remained safe through a warning in advance, asking police to intervene, and by only advertising a protest which did not align itself with groups that could have presented (and clearly did) present a risk to student welfare.

“Please do not hold your student union responsible for the actions of external groups, and do not blame OUSU for the police’s lack of intervention”.

Nikhil Ventakesh, BME Officer for OUSU, was the original proposer of the motion to oppose Le Pen’s visit, and was specifically criticised within the text of the letter. Ventakesh also published a statement online, saying: “I reiterate that I condemn any violence that might have taken place that day. I make no apology for our motion to OUSU Council standing in solidarity with oppressed groups against Le Pen’s fascist views – a motion that was supported by students from across the political spectrum, and passed by an open and democratic process”.