Oxford divided: Over 100 academics sign letter in support of trans students amid Kathleen Stock row

In a display of solidarity, more than 100 Oxford-based staff members have signed a response letter supporting trans rights and standing alongside trans students. The letter, penned within 24 hours of the call for signatures, addresses the concerns raised by a group of 44 Oxford dons who opposed the campaign against Kathleen Stock’s appearance at the Oxford Union.

The response letter begins by acknowledging the increased harm and suffering faced by trans individuals in recent years. It refutes several mistaken claims made about the Oxford University LGBTQ+ students’ campaign, pointing out the “online harassment campaign” that followed Stock’s response and the detrimental impact of sensationalist news coverage, which resulted in death threats against a student activist.

Furthermore, the letter expresses solidarity with the OULGBTQ+ Society and their campaign against Kathleen Stock’s views, as well as the Oxford Union’s decision to amplify them. The signatories emphasize that trans students should not be forced to debate their very existence, asserting that disinviting a speaker does not impede their right to free speech. They portray trans advocates as a persecuted minority seeking basic dignity, respect, and freedom from political demonization.

The staff members go on to voice their disappointment with the university’s leadership, criticizing their lack of care and attention to student concerns and welfare. They highlight the media’s ridiculing of the need to prioritize student well-being and assert that the university leadership’s failure to listen or communicate with protesting students further exacerbated the situation. The letter calls for attentive leadership and care for student well-being, applauding Oxford students for their strength and capability to engage with dissenting ideas in a constructive manner.

Concluding the letter, the signatories emphasize the importance of civil conversations and the need to reduce bad-faith argumentation in public discourse. They assert that the theoretical debate over gender is secondary to the fundamental issues affecting trans people, such as living conditions, autonomy, dignity, and respect. While acknowledging the significance of freedom of speech, the letter calls for equal consideration of the right to protest. It urges the media and the university to take trans voices seriously and treat them with respect.

The letter was initiated and organized by Amiad (Addi) Haran Diman, President of the Oxford University LGBTQ+ Society and a Doctoral Researcher in Politics at Lincoln College. Notable scholars who signed the letter include Prof. Kate Tunstall, Prof. Dan Healey, Dr Pelagia Goulimari, Dr Jack Doyle, and Prof. Max Van Kleek. The signatories represent a diverse mix of senior and junior academic staff, including emeritus professors, senior professors, and researchers studying biology or medicine.

Amiad Haran Diman expressed gratitude for the overwhelming and rapid response from academics who stood in support of trans students. Diman stated that the trans community at Oxford University had felt ignored and abandoned by the university administration, influenced by misleading reports from right-wing media. The extensive support received will serve to embolden their efforts.

Prof. Max Van Kleek emphasized the critical importance of supporting, protecting, and celebrating trans students in the face of increased hostility, violence, and discrimination. Van Kleek emphasized that the trans movement is not an enemy of free speech and has every right to protest against speakers who misrepresent them as anything other than full and valid equals.

Dr. Alexandra Hardwick highlighted the distinction between freedom of speech and entitlement to a public platform. She emphasized that hate speech targeting marginalized minorities should not be tolerated or given a privileged platform. Dr. Hardwick urged the university and the press to listen to queer and trans students and staff, emphasizing their humanity and the need to prioritize their safety.

The response letter follows an open letter addressed to the Pro-Vice Chancellor Martin Williams, which was written by Oxford students. The student letter expressed sadness and disappointment at the Pro-VC’s decision to publish a letter in The Telegraph instead of directly engaging with students. It criticized the undermining of democracy within the Student Union and demanded a formal apology to the students of the University of Oxford, as well as engagement with LGBTQ+ students and organizations. The student letter received support from over 150 students and was organized by Kelsey Trevett and Rachel Hart.

Kathleen Stock’s views have faced condemnation, and the LGBTQ+ society at Oxford has received support from over 20 college student common rooms, with the majority passing unanimous motions in favor. This collective support from colleges such as St Anne’s, Brasenose, Christ Church, Exeter, Hertford, Keble, Magdalen, Merton, Oriel, Queens, Wadham, and many others demonstrates a widespread endorsement of the LGBTQ+ society’s stance.

Image description: the Radcliffe Camera

Image credit: Chen Chen for OxStu