Segregation at UCL is no exception to the rule
Last week Student Rights were contacted by a number of students who raised concerns about planned segregation at an event featuring Hamza Tzortzis at University College London (UCL).
UCL’s attempt to claim that it only became aware of attempted segregation on Sunday is a disgraceful deflection, given that students had been writing to them to complain about this prior to event.
However, what is more concerning is the portrayal of this as an isolated incident, when segregation on our campuses is actually far more common.
This even includes events featuring Tzortzis at UCL, with the audience at an event attended by our researcher Rupert Sutton at the School of Pharmacy in October 2012 seating women at the back of the hall and men at the front.
During 2012 Student Rights also logged several events which were advertised in this way, with a speech given by Dr Khalid Fikry at London Metropolitan University in June pronounced “FULLY SEGREGATED!!!”
In January the same was true at London South Bank University, where an event encouraging non-Muslims to attend was advertised as “100 Per Cent Segregated”.
Promotional material for November’s talk by Abu Usamah At-Thahabi at Brunel, which saw protests from students after Thahabi’s views were exposed by Student Rights, also declared “all our events are always segregated to the best of our ability”.
It can also be seen that this is not simply something done by rogue campus groups, with even the umbrella organisation the Federation of Student Islamic Societies involved.
Despite claiming in February 2012 that “sincere efforts, meanwhile, exist in raising female participation in student societies”, in December 2011 the organisation held an event advertised as including “Full Segregation”.
The fact that segregation is not mentioned in the promotional material of all events should not be taken mean that it does not happen at them either.
In November 2012 a student asked Kingston University Islamic Society on Facebook “are these [events] segregated?” and was cryptically told “please find more information...in the event we created, and rest assured regarding anything else”.
To suggest that what happened at UCL this weekend is a one-off therefore ignores the consistent use of segregation by student Islamic Societies around the country.
Whilst this may be portrayed as voluntary by those who enforce it, the social pressure put on female students to conform to obey these rules should not be underestimated.
One student who attended stated on Saturday highlighted this, saying "I regret not joining my male friends in openly opposing this violation of gender equality in public premises. However, I was genuinely fearful of the repercussions".
Here at Student Rights we would like to see universities coming clean about why they allow such practices in public spaces, and are glad to see that despite its claims of ignorance, UCL has issued a robust response, barring IERA from campus in future.
A statement released by the university today reads:
"An organisation known as the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) booked a room at UCL for a debate on Saturday evening (9 March). UCL was notified during Friday by some individuals planning to attend the event that the organisers intended to segregate the audience by gender.
This was directly contrary to UCL policy. We do not allow enforced segregation on any grounds at meetings held on campus. We immediately made clear to the organisers that the event would be cancelled if there were any attempt to enforce such segregation. We also required the organisers to make it explicit to attendees that seating arrangements were optional, and guests were welcome to sit wherever they felt comfortable. We also arranged for additional security staff to be present to ensure that people were not seated against their wishes.
It now appears that, despite our clear instructions, attempts were made to enforce segregation at the meeting. We are still investigating what actually happened at the meeting but, given IERA’s original intentions for a segregated audience we have concluded that their interests are contrary to UCL’s ethos and that we should not allow any further events involving them to take place on UCL premises".