Half of Oxford University Conservative Association’s (OUCA) current officeholders have slammed “a problem with sexism” in the society, claiming that multiple allegations of groping and harassment are “not being dealt with”.
The statement, seen by Cherwell, was submitted by eleven current and former OUCA officeholders at a meeting of the society last Thursday. It was presented by the most senior female officer in the association, Social Secretary Lucy Boland. Signatories include Treasurer James Olney and Political Officer Connor Beattie.
It claims “there is a common perception that the association has a problem with sexism, and that this perception is right”, and that there are a “number of members who feel able to treat women with disrespect and discourtesy”.
The statement cites “numerous reports” that several attendees at last week’s Port and Policy event “groped, touched, kissed (or attempted to), or otherwise harassed female guests”. It also alleges that this has been a recurring issue.
However, when these issues were raised to other senior officers, it is claimed they were “dismissed due to fears of bad PR.”
The signatories claim “that senior members of the association have been ignoring sexism and misogyny, not because they are themselves sexist, but because they are worried about the public image of themselves and the association.
“Members have been afraid to speak out about harassment because they fear that nothing will come of their complaints, resulting in no action being taken against the minority who behave inappropriately.
“This has created a downward spiral in which victims are further discouraged from speaking out because it appears futile.”
The statement read: “one may easily dismiss reports of harassment of unnamed women but I am sure that if one of the victims was one of your own sisters you would feel very differently, and you should extend the same concern to all of our members.”
Multiple solutions were suggested to rectify the issues raised. These included banning from events members “guilty of groping and harassment”, and mandating sexual assault prevention courses for all officers and committee members.
The creation of a new welfare officer role was also proposed for members not comfortable bringing concerns to senior officers such as the President or Returning Officer.
The signatories stated: “Our aim is not to cause trouble for the Association but to change it for the better.”
OUCA president Timothy Doyle told Cherwell: “The Association takes allegations of misconduct at its events very seriously indeed. Where the Association receives an allegation of an incident of sexual harassment at one of its events, the only action it can take is to refer it to the University authorities.
“I am not aware of any Member’s [sic] having been discouraged from making a complaint for the sake of avoiding bad publicity. I should deplore such an attitude.
“I am grateful for these suggestions, which I began to implement at last night’s Port and Policy. I’m currently looking for suitable candidates for appointment as Welfare Officer, and am investigating the availability and viability of sexual harassment prevention courses for our Officers.
“I am pleased to see progress being made on an important aspect of our Members’ welfare. The association expects all attendees of its events to behave respectfully and appropriately at all times, and take allegations of misconduct very seriously indeed.”
At second week OUCA council, committee member Lewis Roberts submitted a similar statement condemning the association for being “more concerned with its own image than equal rights.”
Roberts is now suspended from OUCA committee, awaiting a disciplinary hearing. Historic blog posts were cited as the reason for his suspension. President Doyle would not comment on ongoing disciplinary matters.
An Oxford University spokesperson told Cherwell: “All registered University clubs and societies are expected to act in accordance with an agreed Code of Conduct and with the University of Oxford’s Policy and Procedure on Harassment.
“This states clearly that all members of registered clubs are expected to treat other members with dignity and respect, discourage any form of harassment by making it clear that such behaviour is unacceptable, and support other members who feel that they have been subject to harassment.
“Students across the institution can seek support from University or College harassment advisors, college deans or other officers with pastoral responsibilities, the Common Room welfare or equal opportunities officer or a student peer supporter, the University Counselling Service, or OUSU’s [sic] Student Advice Service.
“Club members can make a formal complaint in writing to any Committee member, and where Club activities are found to be in breach of the University’s disciplinary regulations, the Proctors may hold Club officers or organisers responsible.”