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Elevate steps down: Oxford Union officer candidates drop out after controversy

Following messages sent from a candidate invoking George Floyd’s killing as reasoning for registering to vote, officers for the ‘Elevate’ slate have dropped out of the running for positions in the Union.

This afternoon, the candidates for officer positions did not nominate themselves for the election before 3pm, meaning they are no longer eligible to be elected. This leaves the election uncontested for the ‘Hope’ slate. 

Candidates running on the Standing and Secretary’s Committee will be on the ballot paper, but some have already announced they will not be campaigning for votes, and will not be associated with the ‘Elevate’ slate. 

The messages sent to encourage people to register to vote for the Union elections were condemned as “disturbing” by the Hilary Term Treasurer and an ex-Standing Committee member.

The message from the candidate read: “Even though this is not the typical content of a union message I feel I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the fact that it feels as though a union election has no place in a world that feels as though it’s unravelling at the seams – today my friends were tear-gassed and the streets I’ve grown up in were looted and destroyed and helicopters fly over my head as we speak (it’s nearly 2am), I’m sending you this link to register to vote because I find that I’m having a hard time making sense of the world right now and at its best, I think the union provides a place for that to happen.”

Melanie Onovo, Treasurer of the Oxford Union in Hilary Term, wrote in a statement on Facebook that the slate “opted for privately handling her abhorrent behaviour without acknowledgement for the necessity of a public apology.” 

The private apology from the candidate said: “In moments like these it is vital that people participate in the open exchange of ideas. The Union provides a forum to gain nuanced understanding and hear conflicting views. The people chosen as Union representatives determine what speakers and issues receive this important university platform. I wish, as we all do, that the Oxford Union remains a positive force for having conversations that matter.”

Onovo responded to the private apology saying: “I have been asked not to call this out publicly and ‘destroy 2 years of work’ but how someone can decide winning an election in a student society is more important than this grotesque behaviour is beyond me.

“THIS IS NOT AN APOLOGY. I recently had to suffer through racial discrimination in Christ Church in relation to the death of George Floyd and this sham of an apology is in total INSULT to the work I, and many of my Black brothers and sisters at Oxford and across the globe have been doing to positively contribute to the fight against racial injustice.”

Mo Iman, an ex-standing Committee member, also posted an open letter on Facebook, and described the messages as “Another clear incident of a white person appropriating the struggles of a minority community for their own success.”

Olly Boyland, the former ‘Elevate’ Librarian candidate, announced his resignation from the campaign on Facebook: “I completely accept that we, the Elevate officer team, completely mishandled the situation. We should have dealt with the situation more firmly and swiftly, ensuring a public apology was made at the outset. We should also have sought to ensure we had a more diverse officer team. It is for these reasons that I am dropping out of the election today.”

The ‘Elevate’ campaign stated earlier today “We sincerely apologise for the deep hurt that was caused by these messages. The member of our slate who sent these messages will no longer be running with us. Having already been nominated, her name will appear on the digital ballot, but she will not be endorsing, or be endorsed by, Elevate.”

‘Elevate’ has not yet officially announced that the slate has stepped down from the election.

Image credit to Wikimedia Commons.

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