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Christ Church students protest lack of visibility around hustings sanctions

Image: Christ Church’s Tom quad, against an overcast sky.

CW: Racism

An email from the Christ Church censors, leaked to The Flete, reported that the disciplinary proceedings in relation to the JCR incidents have concluded, but did not disclose any further information due to student “confidentiality”. This follows a recommendation to release this information about the hustings situation made in a report from Challenge Consultancy, with which Christ Church partnered in the aftermath of the hustings and wine-pouring incidents. Some students, quoted within the report and in response to the report, feel that the college has not done enough for its students of colour.

The published report summarised the conclusions of “Listening and Learning sessions in July and August”, alongside the findings of an online anonymous questionnaire completed by 119 staff and students. The report evaluates Christ Church’s current status as a college regarding such incidents, stating, “Despite the College’s diversity and inclusion initiatives over the past six years, the questionnaires and Listening and Learning sessions revealed that racial incidents and racist behaviour did occur in college. This suggests that Christ Church has clear challenges that need to be addressed before change can occur.”

Some students express[ed] the view that there is a general attitude of there being “no repercussions for racists” within college.

But the report included direct quotes from students, with some students expressing the view that there is a general attitude of there being “no repercussions for racists” within college.

One concern was the vagueness of official college documents. Some students stated that ‘The Blue Book’ (Christ Church’s rules and regulations for students) did not contain enough specific rules regarding race to which they might refer, posing an accountability problem in the case of such incidents.

The Challenge report proposes a number of solutions to help make Christ Church a more attractive and comfortable place for RaEM students. The short-term solutions include more detailed training for both students and staff regarding dealing with such incidences effectively, addressing student concerns in the above paragraph regarding issues of accountability, and, in particular, informing the Christ Church community about the status of the hustings incident as well as any sanctions enforced, as far as student confidentiality allows.

In the long term, proposed is the publication of a five-year diversity and inclusion plan with clearly defined ‘Key Performance Indicators’. In addition, the report suggests the creation of specific scholarships for RaEM students and the critical examination of endowments in relation to “race and interconnected issues of social and environmental justice.” Other long-term propositions include an ‘Education Programme’ for those who exhibit inappropriate racially motivated behaviour and the possibility of electronic entry to the college so as to minimise profiling incidents. 

The report suggests the creation of specific scholarships for RaEM students and the critical examination of endowments in relation to “race and interconnected issues of social and environmental justice.”

Christ Church has already taken up several of Challenge Consultancy’s suggestions: the college will implement compulsory annual training on various topics related to race for both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as for non-academic and academic staff. There will be a revision to the Blue Book, and a drive to “diversify the visual environment”. 

But Christ Church has not released any sanctions, nor the verdict, of the disciplinary case in regards to the hustings and wine-pouring incidents from last summer despite Challenge’s suggestion that it do so. It is unclear to what extent the student responsible was punished at all. When contacted, Christ Church commented:

“All students are subject to robust internal disciplinary procedures at Christ Church. However, the details of individual disciplinary matters are confidential to those involved, as would be the case for any student subject to such a procedure.”

One student, whom we shall call Josephina to protect her identity, questions whether this confidentiality should hold in light of the impact of the situation (according to the Challenge report, 96 percent of students and staff who filled out the survey reported being affected by the hustings incident), as well as what she alleges to be a lack of remorse displayed by the student responsible for the incidents in question. An email, leaked last summer, from the investigated student, reads in part:

“Back to books. Read Berlin [Isaiah Berlin’s Personal Impressions], and give me something new to read. I’m bored of reading woke BS about how I’ve made some girl who can’t even manage to string two sentences together on her Facebook without PUTTING EVERY WORD IN CAPITALS AND ADDDDDDDING RANNNNNDOM EXTRAAAAA LETTERS TO EMPHASIZE HER INFANTILE POINTS feel terribly oppressed. She’d be better off worrying about her capitalization than about my idiocy”.

Josephina, who called for the sanctions to be revealed, alleges that Christ Church’s conduct in not releasing the sanction “causes the institution[‘s] undergraduates to feel excluded and like ‘second-class members’”. She further discloses her feeling that the student investigated for the hustings and wine-pouring incidents received allegedly unfairly favourable treatment. She also cites an excerpt from the same email quoted above (The Flete has redacted the names of specific faculty members at Christ Church):

“Anyway [one of the ChCh professors previously responsible for discipline] told me yesterday that ChCh doesn’t “rusticate children on the whims of the student body” but [another member of Governing Body whom the student describes as “Dean-y”] said I might be sent down (though Usual GB Source said [the Governing Body member who said she might be sent down] doesn’t know anything). […] [One Senior Member in charge of discipline is] no wokest really, [another Governing Body member] just doesn’t care, and the GB [overall Governing Body] isn’t exactly unreasonable or militantly woke either. I just hope the Dean doesn’t touch it and that they don’t ship me out to someone else to punish externally.”

The response to her email reads, in part: “ChCh isn’t going to punish you too much. If [it does it’ll] be betraying an ideal and the GB isn’t so stupid that [it doesn’t] know that.”

She describes the investigated student as “genuinely helpful and a good teacher and likely easily reformable should anyone really have tried to reform her” and goes on to consider that: “[Christ Church is an] institution meant to protect its minority students and teach its privileged students to do the same.”

Josephina, who calls for more openness of discipline, alleges that, without official confirmation of whether sanctions were imposed and, if so, what kind, there is no reason to assume that the institution took any action. She describes the investigated student as “genuinely helpful and a good teacher and likely easily reformable should anyone really have tried to reform her” and goes on to consider that: “[Christ Church is an] institution meant to protect its minority students and teach its privileged students to do the same.” She does not know whether the investigated student has learnt from her mistakes or been disciplined, and she seeks closure.

The student responsible for the hustings and wine-pouring incidents commented:

“My view is that disciplinary matters should be decided by informed and unpressured deliberation, not by an open letter or by the public opinion of the hour. Confidentiality allows that unpressured deliberation.”

Image: Pavel Kliuiev, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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