Committee member resigns from Oxford Union over systemic issues
Barker Evans

SU release statement condemning Oxford Union speaker invitations

The Oxford University Student Union has released a statement condemning the Oxford Union’s decision to invite Ben Shapiro, Katie Hopkins, and Charlie Kirk, after it was mandated to do so by Student Council.

At a meeting of Student Council in 7th week, a motion was passed calling on the SU to release a public statement condemning the Union and to support protests against the speakers  The motion received 21 votes in favour and 10 against it.

The statement released says that the Oxford SU “considers the views espoused by these individuals repugnant and incompatible with the standards of a just society” and that “these views border on hate speech”. It also says that “while recognizing the right to freedom of speech, the Oxford SU believes it is imperative to underscore that exercising this right should not infringe upon or cause harm to vulnerable groups.”

The statement notes that as a result of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, the SU faces “constraints” on its ability to freely express its stance on the matter. In Trinity 2023, the SU forced the SU LGBTQ+ campaign to remove a statement calling for the invitation of Kathleen Stock to be rescinded as a result of fears that it breached the Act. The motion Student Council passed described the Act as “an attack on freedom of speech”

Shapiro faced protests when he spoke at the Union this term, including chants of “Oxford Union here us say, hate speech no way”. The last time Hopkins spoke at the Union, her appearance prompted significant protests, involving an arrest when one protestor attacked a man making the Nazi salute sign. 

The Oxford Union have been contacted for comment.

The full statement reads:

‘The Oxford University Student Union (Oxford SU) firmly upholds the principles of freedom of speech. Simultaneously we are committed to inclusivity, equality and equity, and the protection as well as support of marginalised groups. In response to the invitation extended by the Oxford Union to speakers Ben Shapiro, Katie Hopkins, and Charlie Kirk, Oxford SU condemns the decision to invite such speakers. The Oxford SU expresses concern and considers the views espoused by these individuals repugnant and incompatible with the standards of a just society. 

Inclusivity is a core principle at the Oxford SU, as collectively agreed upon by our membership. The following instances illustrate the expressed opinions and actions of the invited speakers, substantiating our profound concern about their repugnant views and their incompatibility with Oxford SU principles.  

Ben Shapiro has been accused of climate change denial and has made derogatory remarks regarding the Palestinian population, falsely asserted claims about George Floyd’s demise, and expressed discriminatory views against various marginalised groups, including the LGBTQ+ community and transgender individuals

Katie Hopkins, through her statements denigrating Islam, blaming crime on multiculturalism, and expressing discriminatory views against various ethnic and social groups, has propagated divisive and harmful rhetoric.  

Charlie Kirk has promoted harmful conspiracy theories, disseminated disparaging racial comments, publicly denied climate change, and expressed prejudicial views against the transgender community. It is acknowledged that Charlie Kirk declined the speaking engagement. This could have been an opportunity for the Oxford Union to amplify diverse voices. However, the Oxford Union failed to do so.  

While recognizing the right to freedom of speech, the Oxford SU believes it is imperative to underscore that exercising this right should not infringe upon or cause harm to vulnerable groups. These views border on hate speech. Upholding the right to free speech does not equate to an unquestionable entitlement to a platform, especially when that platform imposes a substantial cost—members are required to pay £350 to attend events and debates, a fee that serves as a barrier for those seeking to challenge such perspectives. 

As the representative body of University of Oxford students, the Oxford SU wishes to freely express our stance on this matter. However, under the interpretations of the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, constraints may limit our ability to do so. Consequently, we denounce the Oxford Union’s failure to stand in solidarity with affected Oxford students and urge them to fulfil their role as a bastion of free speech by amplifying marginalised voices and fostering an environment where diverse opinions are heard without undue impediments. 

We urge the Oxford Union to establish an inclusive platform that facilitates the expression of diverse voices countering repugnant views. Furthermore, we call upon the Office for Students to provide guidance that better facilitates students’ rights to exercising their voices freely and without restraint. 

Sincerely,
 
The Oxford University Student Union’

The Oxford Union have been approached for comment.