Exeter to give controversial conference profits to charity

Exeter College, which over Easter hosted a conference by a controversial Christian group, plans to donate all profits from the event to a charity which supports LGBTQ causes, a decision which has been praised by students.

The conference, known as The Wilberforce Academy, was hosted at Exeter during the last vacation by Christian Concern, an organisation which some have labelled homophobic as it supports ‘corrective therapy’ for homosexuals.

The college’s decision to donate its profits from the conference comes after a petition was sent to the Rector, Bursar and Chaplain last week, carrying over 150 student signatures and complaining about the behaviour of the conference guests.

The petition accused members of Christian Concern of making homophobic remarks to Exeter student Nick Georgiou, comparing his homosexuality to the sexuality of a paedophile and labelling him “immoral.” Conference guests also reportedly distributed anti-abortion leaflets in communal areas in college, and held an anti-Islamic talk.

The petition had also criticised the college’s initial handling of the matter, referring to “the indolence of College when it came both to responding to media criticism and to ensuring the behaviour of the conference.”

Ella-Mae Lewis, LGBTQ Rep at Exeter, was among many students who praised the college’s reaction to the petition. She said, “Their response was completely overwhelming. All student members with specific issues were invited to speak to the Sub-Rector (the Rector is on sabbatical), and as we requested, a Working Group was set up to vet future Conferences.”

The exact size of the donation has yet to be determined, but Lewis claimed, “The Bursar is currently calculating the number, which he’ll be communicating to us: he seems to think it will probably be quite a figure!”

The college has not confirmed which charity will receive the money. Lewis said that the Terrence Higgins trust, a British charity that campaigns on AIDS- and HIV-related issues, has been suggested.

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She concluded, “[College] have really impressed us by proving that, as they have always said, this was not about the money. All we can do is thank the JCR and MCR members who helped make the petition possible, and thank College for really rising to the occasion!”

Dr Maureen Taylor, Sub-Rector of Exeter College, confirmed that the donation will be made.

Reverend Mr Stephen Hearn, Chaplain at Exeter and one of the Governing Body members to whom the students’ petition was addressed, commented, “I think it’s an excellent decision and I’m delighted.” Explaining the reasoning behind the decision, he said, “We were keen to show that this was never about conference income.”

Benjamin Clayton, Exeter JCR President, was also complimentary about the college’s reaction to the controversy. He said, “As JCR President what has struck me most is the positive and productive way in which the whole of college has dealt with the situation.

“Members of the JCR, irrespective of whether they associate with LGBT more generally, have gone out of their way to organise LGBT events, parties and information sessions, to reaffirm Exeter as a place where all are free to flourish intellectually and socially irrespective of sexual orientation.

“I believe College’s decision to donate the proceeds of the conference to charity backs this message up, and shows strongly that the JCR, MCR and College are working together to make Exeter the brilliant College we know it is.”

Ben Houghton, a third year at Exeter, claimed that allowing the conference to take place at the college was a mistake, arguing, “The fact that college let Christian Concern come in the first place was pretty awful. It should never have been allowed to happen.”

However, he praised their decision to donate the profits, saying, “It shows that they are remorseful, and realise that they’ve upset a lot of students.”