Photo credit: Ian Wallman

Vice-Chancellor attends OULGBTQ+ Q&A to “listen and learn”

On Tuesday 31st October, Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey addressed a small group of students in a Q&A session organised by OULGBTQ+ Society.

The event was free and allowed students to raise concerns about LGBTQ+ issues. Problems with welfare, disability services, and recent funding from Cobham and Ultra Electronics were discussed.

Tracey began by explaining her background as an undergraduate and postgraduate student at the university, and how important it was to understand the student experience.

She then outlined how there were multiple facets to power in the university, such as departmental and collegiate levels, noting that people often “underestimate” the power that the Vice-Chancellor holds.

She also said that she hoped to hold more sessions using student consultation, and emphasised multiple times that she was there to “listen and learn” to students’ concerns. 

One student questioned the “reactive” nature of university welfare provision for LGBTQ+ students, noting how all of the LGBTQ+-specific counsellors were not based in Oxford, but online.

The Vice-Chancellor responded that she “wasn’t aware” that no counsellors were available in Oxford, whilst another attendee who works in welfare said that the cost of living crisis was deterring people from working in Oxford.

The University has expressed that there are 6 therapists who identify as LGBTQ+ offering in-person appointments in Oxford as well as the services provided online.

Kathleen Stock’s invitation to the Oxford Union and the subsequent response last term were also raised, as Tracey said in her first Oration that “we should have done more to support them; rest assured, lessons were learned”. This was in reference to hateful and transphobic messages sent to members of the OULGBTQ+ society last term on social media.

Problems with the Disability Advisory Service (DAS) were discussed, with one student noting the intersection between queer students and people with disabilities. One in three LGBTQ+ individuals self-reported as having a disability.

Tracey said that she did not know students were waiting so long to receive appointments and student support plans. She then went on to admit that it was understaffed and that there was simply “not enough cash”, although she emphasised that this wasn’t “making excuses for the problem”.

One student questioned the recent funding accepted by Oxford University and the engineering faculty, who received £500,000 from Cobham and Ultra Electronics.

The SU LGBTQ+ Campaign released a statement on this issue at the start of term, outlining Cobham’s role in developing surveillance technology, including mobile phone hacking technology that was sold to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Brunei, where gay sex is punished with the death penality and is heavily criminalised.

The student questioned how Tracey could claim to support the LGBTQ+ community in sessions such as these whilst simultaneously not responding to this type of funding. The Vice-Chancellor said that she was not aware of this funding, and “couldn’t comment without further details”.

A spokesperson for the University told The Oxford Student: “All decisions about donations are made by the University’s Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding, whose members include Oxford academics with expertise in relevant areas like ethics, law and business. This committee considers whether donations or research funding are acceptable under University guidelines, and turns down proposals which do not meet this standard. The Committee reviews all the publicly available information about a potential donor and can take legal, ethical and reputational issues into consideration.”

The session concluded with a question about the diversity of the governing body, and whether or not it was good enough yet. Tracey answered that this was “not enough diversity”, and that we “had to keep pushing…and calling out things when we see them”.

At the end, the Vice-Chancellor noted how “helpful” the session was. She said she would use the issues raised to help upcoming work on welfare provision, as well as pass other issues on to the governing body.

Photo credit: Ian Wallman