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Update: Fallout following protests to the Education Secretary’s visit to the University of Warwick

Following much national media coverage surrounding the protests to the Education Secretary’s visit to the University of Warwick on Friday 27 May, The Boar News has put together a summary of key updates since.

 

University of Warwick’s statement

The University of Warwick has put out an official statement following widely circulated news that the Education Secretary had been heckled by LGBT+ rights protesters from Trans Action Warwick. 

The statement, published on 31 May 2022, reaffirmed the University’s continued commitments to: “Academic freedom and freedom of speech”, and to: “Encouraging free and open debate”. 

The University also claimed that they were “aware of plans for a protest at the meeting” and that “the event went ahead safely, despite it being noisy and disruptive outside the event”.

The statement added that “students have the right to lawful protest”, and that the University intended to “review [its] approach to the protest and consider what steps [it] should potentially take as a result.”

The statement follows substantial media coverage of protests led by LGBT+ rights group Trans Action Warwick in response to Nadhim Zahawi’s visit to Warwick University for an event privately organised by the Warwick Conservative Association. Warwick Pride has since reaffirmed that it was not involved with the protests in a statement you can find on the society’s website. You can read The Boar’s coverage of the event here.

Trans Action Warwick have been contacted for comment. 

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi defends Joel Cooper

Since the event, Nadhim Zahawi put out a statement on Twitter at approximately midday the following Tuesday defending Joel Cooper, a student who asked a question directly to the minister at the end of the first part of the speaker’s event. Zahawi’s tweet defended Joel as “very polite”, and highlighted that he had made a “reasonable point about how schools can help children which I was happy to debate.” The Education Secretary went on to highlight that: “His right to free speech is vital too.

“We will never deny biology but we must always show kindness, tolerance and love when discussing these issues”.

We have reached out to Joel Cooper for comment. 

Update on Warwick Pride: Complaint made to SU prior to Zahawi event

Following the widespread media coverage of the event, Cam Hall, former Head of News for Radio Warwick (RAW), went on BBC CWR on Tuesday 31 May to discuss the protest further. You can find a version of the interview on the BBC Sounds website, available here (time approx. 3:38:20).

In the interview, Hall outlined the events of the night, and stated: “There was a designated space provided to them [Trans Action Warwick] outside of the room to protest, which is where they were throughout the evening.” 

He also confirmed this was included in an email sent to the event’s attendees by the Conservative Association, seen by RAW. 

Later in the interview, Hall claimed that: “The event did occur as planned. It was not as if Nadhim Zahawi was not platformed, and indeed Warwick Pride in their statement the day before specifically said they weren’t looking to no platform Nadhim Zahawi, they were simply hoping to go into the event and pose questions to him.”

Trans Action Warwick and the Warwick Conservative Association have been contacted for comment. 

Whilst The Boar can confirm that such claims are accurate according to Warwick Pride’s statement available here, in messages between Warwick Pride and The Boar News before the speaker event, Warwick Pride claimed that: “One of our execs complained on the SU website to try to stop the event from happening because of its association with Nahawi.” The Boar News has not seen this complaint, but has seen subsequent emails exchanged between the individual that made the complaint and the Student Union.

These emails included requests for SU “documents concerning risk assessments” relating to the external speaker, as well as pleas to have the event recorded “as a potential mitigation to reassure Warwick students that SU by-laws concerning Equality and Diversity… are not broken”. These requests were rejected by Warwick SU.

When asked for comment about the complaint following the speaker event, Warwick Pride told The Boar: “Warwick Pride’s aim while complaining to the SU was to receive the maximum possible mitigation.

“We as an association wished mainly for mitigations, such as receiving a rough transcript of any speeches to be made by the education secretary, and any possibility of an independent body filming the event. Furthermore we wished to gain access to risk assessments made regarding this event.

“…Given that Zahawi is drafting guidance for teachers that puts trans people at risk, which includes outing trans children to their parents even if they come out in confidence, we expected that the SU would contact relevant concerned groups about this speaker – namely, the trans or LGBTQUA+ student officers within the SU, or Warwick Pride. This was not done. 

“…None of our requests for mitigations were granted. Warwick Pride had serious concerns regarding this external event. If we had left it unchallenged, it would have posed the risk of emboldening bigots, instilling a university environment to trans and non-binary individuals”.

Warwick SU has been contacted for comment.

Warwick SU LGBT+ Officer interviewed on LBC

Meanwhile, on 1 June, one of the part-time Student Union (SU) LGBTQUA+ Officers, Noga Levy-Rapoport, went on Nick Ferrari’s show on LBC to defend the protests. You can find the LBC interview here.

When asked by the host: “Why would you not at least want to hear what the man has to say?”, Ms Levy-Rapoport responded: “My role is to represent these students and to show that the entire LGBT+ students stand together at this university.

“Zahawi has very clearly expressed his transphobic views. Hearing him out further is not the moment for this to occur. Him attending this event and speaking wasn’t about LGBT+ rights, he has been very clear that he is willing to trivialise the detrimental impact of outing LGBT+ youth to their parents”.

Ms Levy-Rapoport claimed: “Several of our fellow members wanted to attend the event. Some of us weren’t sent tickets because people were explicitly singled out because of this identity. Multiple students were turned away from security because they were wearing Pride merch.”  

Ms Levy-Rapoport later added: “We have a democratic right to protest and disrupt. Sometimes that comes to a case where you need to be loud and clear.”

Towards the end of the podcast, feminist writer and campaigner, Julie Bindel, joined the interview. 

Following the interview, Ms Levy-Rapoport tweeted: “Lots of people after LBC getting very vexed about my support for #TransActionWarwick protesting Zahawi. I was proud to attend. Feminism & LGBT+ rights are interlinked: fundamentally, we must challenge the essentialist gender hierarchy that wants to silence women and trans people.”

Ms Levy-Rapoport also uploaded the following message to Instagram alongside a copy of the tweet: “Pretty stressful being surprised with Julie Bindel on LBC this morning…

“We must stand our ground against transphobes and those who would seek to divide the LGBT+ community. We stand together against hate and against this Tory Government.” 

When approached for comment after the interview, Ms Levy-Rapoport re-affirmed many of the points made in the interview, including concerns about student admission into the event. 

Warwick SU and the Warwick Conservative Association have been approached for comment.

Trans Action Warwick released a new video showing music being heard inside the first part of the event

On 1 June, Trans Action Warwick released a new video on Twitter showing loud music being played in an attempt to disrupt the first part of the speaker event. The footage goes on to show the chants made as the Education Secretary left the building following the Conservative member-only part of the event.

Further, the Tweet commented: “On Friday we disrupted Nadhim Zahawi speaking at the University of Warwick.  This response should be natural for students. No to transphobia, resist gendered existence.”

Education Secretary writes opinion piece about the protests in the Daily Mail

Just over a week after the speaker event, the Secretary for Education, Nadhim Zahawi, has written an opinion piece about the event in the Daily Mail, linked here.

In the piece, he outlined the importance of the right to free speech, whilst also stating that: “Free speech is not a licence to spread hate, intimidate others or shut down debate.”

Mr Zahawi then responded more directly to the protests at Warwick University stating: “While the activists clearly intended to stop my speech and shut down the discussion, it has done precisely the opposite.

“I am now more convinced than ever that the chilling crushing of free speech needs to be countered.”

The Education secretary then highlighted the importance of the “Freedom of Speech Bill for universities”, before going on to say that there needs to be a change in the culture in order to tilt it “back towards the virtues of open expression”.

Whilst Mr Zahawi acknowledged that the group that chanted at him on the evening of the speaker event was relatively small, he later mentioned: “Most students were happy to disagree with me politely and respectfully and to engage in debate. But across too many campuses, there is a less tolerant approach.”

“…Sadly, among some hard-Left student groups, there exists a belief that hearing ideas you don’t like is somehow equivalent to violence. Such nonsense is unworthy of our country’s great intellectual tradition”, he added.

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