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Written by Student Rights on 18 May 2013 at 2pm

Segregation on campuses: A response to critics

On Monday Student Rights released a short briefing entitled ‘Unequal Opportunity’ which used the data from our event-monitoring programme to investigate the issue of gender segregation at student events.

Featured on the front page of the Times, and covered by numerous other media sources, the report highlights that segregated events are not one-offs as suggested by previous media stories, and suggests that some universities may be failing in their equality responsibilities.

Despite this, there has been some criticism of the briefing in the Huffington Post which fails to address these findings, and instead resorts to misrepresentation and accusations of Islamophobia and demonisation.

This even culminates in one author claiming that “Student Rights have shown little interest in women's rights (or LGBT rights for that matter) except where the offending party is Muslim”, which completely and conveniently ignores our work on Christian homophobia and aggressive anti-abortion activism.

Perhaps most surprising though for an outlet which styles itself as a progressive voice is that the Huffington Post has provided a platform for a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) to proselytise without notifying readers of her organisational affiliation.

Shohana Khan, who published an article titled ‘Separate Toilets for Men and Women - Serious Issue of Discrimination’, is the group’s ‘Women’s Deputy Media Representative’ and is the last person who should be opining on this given that her organisation is No-Platformed’ by the National Union of Students (NUS).

Pete Mercer, Vice President of the NUS even tweeted this fact, calling HT “consistently discriminatory”, yet clearly did not see that one of the ‘women only’ events he defended featured Khan as the speaker.

The article that has received most attention though is by Hilary Aked, and attempts to blame mistakes by the media on Student Rights; falsely assumes that we conflate the issue of segregation with extremism, and claims that gender segregation is voluntary.

The most egregious misrepresentation is the suggestion that Student Rights link gender segregation with extremism in our briefing, which is simply not true.

Whilst our research investigates extremist speakers, and therefore our figures are drawn from a log of events featuring those speakers, at no point do we conflate the two issues.

Whilst the presence of extremist speakers on our campuses is an issue that needs to be addressed, gender segregation and violent extremism are not something that we would link, and we have addressed the topic as part of our wider efforts to ensure campuses are free from discrimination.

Aked’s key claim though is that Student Right’s data represents a biased sample as we have not logged all events which took place on UK campuses in the past year.

Of course, had we done this Aked would no doubt now be accusing us of monitoring events simply because the speakers were Muslim, so it is tough to know how to satisfy her.

Regardless of this, the claim is rendered irrelevant by the fact that we made no attempt to extrapolate our data out to suggest that 25% of all campus events are segregated, and instead simply highlighted that of the events which we had logged, 25% suggested some form of gender segregation.

At no point did we try to claim that our figures were representative of all student events, and those such as Aked who have an issue with inaccurate headlines should remember that for many media outlets the temptation to round up to the nearest exaggeration is often difficult to resist.

This is not the fault of Student Rights, and to use this fact to attack our work without responding to the fact that some universities are allowing discrimination to take place on their campuses is the height of intellectual dishonesty.

Finally, Aked claims that “Student Rights are glossing over questions of choice, agency and power”, suggesting that when segregation was not enforced there was no case to answer.

This is true of course, and is something that we have stated on numerous occasions.

We have no problem with students choosing to self-segregate, yet when a university society advertises that it operates “a strict policy of segregated seating between males and females” then the issue of choice appears moot.

In addition to this, Aked also fails to understand that it takes real courage not to conform to rules that may not be codified but exist due to social pressures.

Following the event at UCL at which segregation was imposed one female student told Student Rights “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”.

This statement highlights why Student Rights do what we do, and those who cry Islamophobia at organisations like ours are as responsible for this as those enforcing it.

As Mohamed Harrath states, Muslim students do contribute immensely to campus life, and this should not be ignored, yet neither should discriminatory activity.