Union Librarian resigns over Elevate slate scandal

Harry Deacon, who until this week had intended to run for President of the Oxford Union in next week’s election, has resigned from his current position as Union Librarian. It is understood that members of the Union’s committee were considering processes to remove the Librarian from office prior to this decision.

The Librarian’s decision to resign comes following a meeting of the Access Committee on Friday 5th June, where he was asked by attendees if he believed his position was still tenable. In response, he confirmed his belief that it was. 

Deacon had previously headed the Elevate election slate, which disbanded on Wednesday after it came to light that a member of the slate had invoked the murder of George Floyd in her campaign messages. Part of the message read:

“…Today my friends were tear-gassed and the streets I’ve grown up in were looted and destroyed and helicopters fly over my head as we speak (it’s nearly 2am), I’m sending you this link to register to vote because I find that I’m having a hard time making sense of the world right now and at its best, I think the Union provides a place for that to happen.”

All four of Elevate’s prospective Officers have since dropped out of the current election race. It is understood that the candidate who sent the above message resigned from her current position on the Secretary’s Committee on Thursday, but is yet to make a public statement on the matter. 

The Oxford Student approached Deacon for comment on his changed decision to resign. He said that:

“The highly offensive hack message was sent without the knowledge of Elevate’s prospective Officers and the views expressed were not those of the Elevate slate. The message was completely unacceptable and the Officers sincerely regret the hurt caused.

I believe that leadership positions bring with them significant responsibility and I thought it appropriate not only to withdraw from the election but on reflection, to resign from my position as Librarian of the Union.”

It has also been reported that the former Librarian did not attend the meeting of the Access Committee for its first hour, until he was encouraged to do so by the President. A previous apology made for their actions from the now-ex member of the Secretary’s Committee, who sent the offending messages, was read out to attendees by Olly Boyland, Elevate’s Librarian candidate, who represented the Elevate slate’s prospective Officers including Harry Deacon. Many attendees condemned both Deacon’s initial lack of attendance and the actions of the Elevate slate’s Officers in the events of the week.

It was also stated at the meeting of Access Committee that the candidate responsible for the offensive messages had not followed a template set by the Elevate slate’s Officers for sending messages.

Mahi Joshi, the Union President for Trinity Term, provided a statement on the matter to The Oxford Student:

“The insensitive and deeply troubling messages sent by the former Standing Committee candidate have been a cause of horror and distress to so many in Oxford, including members of the Union’s committee.

“Members of the Elevate slate, with whom the candidate was associated, have since issued genuine apologies for their handling of the situation, withdrawn from the election, with the Librarian stepping down from Office. This incident has not been an isolated one, and has come alongside a wider movement in Oxford to challenge the racism so prevalent in its institutions. Going forward, I really hope that the Oxford Union can be a part of this change.

“Yesterday, the Standing Committee issued a statement outlining the steps the Union is starting to take to better itself, the seeds of which will be sown this term. These include existing reforms on which the Standing Committee, including the Librarian, have worked for the past several weeks, such as having weekly Presidential Office hours and a committee on disciplinary reform. In addition to this, I will work on the establishment of a bicentenary committee, with a long term vision to address wider access issues in the Union, will ensure staff training is put in place for MT20, and that members are consulted on the changes they want to see.

For the rest of term, I am committed to ensuring that change is underway, not just for the next few terms, but for the long term future of the Union.”

The Senior Access Officer, Rachel Hart, stated that she agrees with and commends Joshi’s statement in its entirety.

A number of the Union’s members have expressed their support for Deacon’s decision to resign. A member of the Standing Committee told The Oxford Student that:

“The events earlier this week have no place in the Oxford Union, and I am glad to see the Librarian has done the right thing and stood down. This is the time for every member of the Union’s committee to reflect on how we can improve individually and tackle institutional racism within the society.”

The Union’s termly election will go ahead next week, with Jack Solomon and the prospective Officers on his Hope slate pegged to win.