On Thursday 2nd June, over forty students walked out of the Oxford Union Chamber in protest of alleged bullying and suppression by the President.
Earlier today, a standing member of the Oxford Union Committee publicly expressed upset at their paper speech being withdrawn by the President. Paper speeches are speeches given by members of the Oxford Union Committee in the historic Thursday debates. Disha Hegde alleged she had been given less than 24 hours notice that she would no longer be speaking, after making arrangements for family and friends to watch.
Earlier today, a notice was given that two members of the committee would pose questions to the President focusing on the treatment of Hegde and the committee in general. These questions were to be posed to the President, understood to have meant to take place prior to the Thursday Debate.
Shortly after the Public Business Meeting began at 8:30 PM, and before any questions were posed about the treatment of Hegde, a member raised a point of Order to move directly on to the Thursday Debate. The point of Order explained that, as the Union had “listened to two pieces of private business, [further] private business be postponed [until after the main debate]” The President told the Oxford Student that “it is required to respond to a point of Order.”
At this point, a disagreement broke out in the chamber. An elected Member of the Secretary’s Committee, Joe Murray, Pembroke College, stood up and shouted “On what grounds?” The President proceeded without acknowledging Murray.
Disha Hegde herself then voiced her discontent: “You are suppressing the members’ right to speech.”
As the President attempted to control the chamber, a member of the Oxford Union Committee shouted “You bully Committee!”
The walkout seemed to follow growing discontent with the President, according to some protesters who spoke to The Oxford Student. “I walked out with Disha Hegde because I think it’s frankly ludicrous that her offer for paper speech was rescinded at the last minute by a bullying president,” said one member of the Union.
One member of the committee, who wished to remain anonymous, summarised their grievances to the Oxford Student: “If this happened three or four days ago, and there was enough advance warning given to Ms. Hegde, that would have been perfectly reasonable, because mistakes, bureaucratic or otherwise, do happen. It was sprung upon her [at] 1 a.m. of the same day, literally 15-16 hours before the actual thing [debate] happened. And I think that’s the basic problem, is that there was no advance warning… The fact that it was taken away from her [at the] last minute, when plans were already made, placed an undue burden upon her…I think that is so unfair and unprofessional.”
In the words of one attendee, “Work should be done to make the union a true place for debating, full stop.”
The President of the Union told the Oxford Student, “The nature of Ms Disha Hedge’s speech was adapted due to serious concerns being lodged with the President and the Returning Officer on Wednesday evening before and because several committee members had approached the President and others in the senior team informally about Ms Hedge’s poor conduct. Out of respect for the complainant’s wish to keep themselves and the details of their concerns anonymous due to fear of backlash, further harassment and intimidation as well as alleged violation of Rule 33 (electoral malpractice) and Rule 71 (disciplinary concerns), this full reason couldn’t be conveyed to Ms Hegde in full at the time.”
The Oxford Student has reached out for comment from Disha Hegde and Joe Murray.
Image Credit: Jason Chau
Image Description: The Oxford Union Debate Chamber