Students at Exeter, Pembroke, and St. Catherine’s have expressed disapproval over OUSU’s decision to demonstrate against Marine Le Pen’s talk last Thursday.
Pembroke’s JCR passed the motion, “This JCR resolves to condemn the disruptive actions of these protesters.” It criticised OUSU for not protecting the welfare and rights of students, arguing that extremism and intolerance is best countered by free debate and not through disruptive protests. However, they reaffirmed their support for peaceful demonstration.
Ryan Tang, who proposed the motion, told Cherwell, “I decided to propose my motion because it seemed that a lot of Pembroke students were not happy at the way OUSU is politicising itself and supporting disruptive protests without consultation. They all say that we elected them into office, but the reality is that it’s nearly impossible for us to keep tabs on what they decide and attending OUSU Council is not something that appeals to 99 per cent of Oxford students.
“By passing this motion, hopefully we can send a message to OUSU that they need to consult students a bit more when taking political stances instead of just listening to a handful of activists.”
Exeter College’s JCR also passed a motion strongly disapproving of OUSU’s stand, which they believe “took a party political standpoint against Marine Le Pen’s appearance at the Oxford Union and the Front National, an action that should not be in the remit of OUSU regardless of the popularity and validity of the party political views protested against.” They also expressed their disapproval of OUSU mandating the president to send out an email to all Oxford students about the protest.
Exeter JCR president Tutku Bektas told Cherwell, “We came to university to hear and engage with a plurality of views, even those which we may vehemently disagree with. After OUSU passed a motion that condemned Marine Le Pen’s appearance at the Oxford Union, we thought it important to send the message that there are still students that value free speech.”
St. Catherine’s JCR’s OUSU Representative, Christopher Casson, expressed his anger at OUSU’s actions in a blog post entitled ‘I now hate OUSU. Here’s why.’ He said, “We voted to condemn an organisation whose sole purpose is to encourage free speech and debate, for literally doing their job. It isn’t our [OUSU’s] place to start attempting to censor things that go on in the Union. We’re meant to be representing students, sure, but that includes the students that want to hear her talk.”
When asked if St Catz had any plans to disaffiliate, Casson stressed, “We do think that it’s important to be part of the organisation so that we can fight for the changes we want from the inside.”
Nikhil Venkatesh, who proposed the motion to OUSU, said, “I would encourage all common rooms to stick with OUSU. In a democratic system, there will always be some decisions some members disagree with, but the beauty o f OUSU is that anyone from any common room can get involved and change it. I don’t apologise for my motion, or for my participation in the protest. I feel it’s important to point out that the motion was not a motion of ‘no platform’.”