Earlier this year, the LGBTQ+ Society announced the introduction of a Careers Rep to facilitate the organisation and promotion of networking events within the society. The society has currently secured sponsorship with four firms – JP Morgan, Travers Smith, Boston Consultancy Group, and Credit Suisse – in order to generate financial support to subsidise welfare and social events. This increased corporate presence within the society has prompted some anger from LGBTQ+ students, with accusations being made that it is forgetting its core purpose as a society for students who experience unique difficulties and vulnerabilities during their time at university. These criticisms come from valid student voices, and they must be listened to if the university, and LGBTQ+ Soc, are going to carve out the safe haven that young LGBTQ+ people need.
An Oxfess, published on 3 October, sparked discussion after accusing the influx of emails promoting opportunities with JP Morgan and the new careers rep position of being “alienating”. The post went on: “I want a society which represents me as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and where I can turn to if I need help or support”.
Events such as “Credit Suisse Pizza and Prosecco” and “Markets Afternoon Tea with JP Morgan” would fit perfectly in a banking or consultancy society but seem out of place in a society which should, first and foremost, be about student welfare. There are countless opportunities within Oxford to network. We are very privileged to go to a university where large firms are as eager to get to know us as we are to get to know them. But that is not the reason we turn to the LGBTQ+ society, that is not their role to fulfil. We want a society that is there to help us, provide a safe space to escape to in times of difficulty and stress, and to have fun with like-minded people. To some it feels like this role has been overridden by a hunger for corporate sponsors.
“Going forward, there needs to be more reassurance from the LGBTQ+ Society that they are there for students in a personal capacity…not just when there is an opportunity to network.”
Still, it would be naïve to expect the society to go without this corporate support, as well as to deny some of the very clear advantages to having a brand so openly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. The funding for the welfare events, which have the potential to support a wide array of students, has to come from somewhere. The sheer variety of events that LGBTQ+ Soc run is clearly financially demanding and it would be incredibly saddening if these events were prevented from going ahead due to a lack of funds.
As well as this, the knowledge that such well-established and world-renowned brands are open and accessible to us is comforting. This would have been a state of affairs that would have simply been unheard of just a decade or two ago. But this should not prevent us from questioning what exactly we want from our society and how it should be run.
The issue that most people have with the corporate involvement in the LGBTQ+ Society is not, I think, the fact that brands are interested in the society and offer their financial support, but it’s how that is conveyed to members of the society. Going forward, it is clear that members want more reassurance that the society is there for them in a personal capacity for every welfare and social need, and not just when there is an opportunity to network.
LGBTQ+ Soc told The Oxford Student that its “main priority is to provide the best possible welfare for our members. Without the support of our sponsors, we would not be able to run any of our welfare or social events. We believe that these events are integral to the welfare support that we offer as a society. Providing safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ students is an integral part of our ethos. Our careers events aim to reassure LGBTQ+ students that accepting corporate employers exist, and that people will not be forced to deny their identities in their workplace.
“They also allow our sponsors to showcase their ongoing LGBTQ+ initiatives and take suggestions from students about further steps that can be taken to make their work environment an inclusive and welcoming space for all people, regardless of their identity.”