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Christ Church JCR candidate steps down after George Floyd comments, college responds

A Christ Church JCR candidate has linked the protests after the death of George Floyd with “flour shortage”, in JCR minutes seen by Cherwell.

In hustings held via Zoom on Sunday, the candidate for “Cake Rep” claimed that “Flour shortage leads to rioting, which leads to death” to explain anti-racism protests. Following backlash from students, they withdrew from the election on Monday. Christ Church did not respond publicly until Thursday, when they posted a statement on their website condemning the speech.

In their opening speech, the candidate said: “The US is facing two very important crises at the moment – the curious incident of George Floyd, and the event of flour shortage. I would like to put forward the motion that these incidents are not two, but rather one.”

“Flour shortage leads to rioting, which leads to death, which leads to racism. And racism, leads to death, leads to rioting, and that leads to flour shortage. Really, it is just a massive positive feedback loop. While I cannot address the consequences of flour shortage, I can at least cut at the root of all evil, by continuing the legacy of cake distribution.”

They went on to explain how they were qualified to be the “Christ Church protector of evil.”

In response, JCR member Melanie Onovo asked the candidate to clarify what they meant by this comment.

The candidate responded: “Well, what I am trying to say is that it is a positive feedback loop. Where flour shortage leads to rioting, which leads to death, and that leads to racism, and racism leads to death, which leads to rioting, which leads to flour shortage. We cannot stop the consequences of the evil of racism. We can however symbolically support the victims by cutting out the root of all evil, as I said before.”

Onovo says she was unable to respond as she was placed on mute, and was unable to ask followup questions. She also claims the candidate “giggled” when asked the question.

The other candidates for “Cake Rep” declined to comment, with one saying it was “too soon”.

Onovo told Cherwell: “I was left on mute and unable to respond. Even the pleas of members of the JCR through messages were ignored.”

During the hustings, the Returning Officer said: “I have a few messages of people wanting to make a message or point or statement at the end of the meeting – in my opinion, it is not appropriate, so if you would like to do, please do so through the JCR page or Facebook. I don’t think it is appropriate to use hustings to make political points – we would be here a very long time otherwise.”

The JCR president released a statement: “Being a member of the JCR is to commit oneself to engage with others, to live in a community, and above all to respect one another. These basic standards were violated. The injustices of American society, that travesty of American police brutality, were trivialised for the sake of a cheap and repugnant joke.” 

“We must recognise that such insensitivity and lack of compassion cannot be treated with indifference. We must learn to live with one another. We must be understanding, and we must be kind.”

“The individual who made the remark has made the right decision to withdraw their candidacy for a position on the JCR Committee. They are apologetic and it is clear to me deeply regret the hurt and anguish caused, and did not foresee it.”

“I spoke at the end of the Hustings to ensure that the incident did not go unaddressed. In future, the provisions of our standing orders will be reviewed to ensure that unacceptable and offensive remarks are immediately addressed, in the instance in which they happen, and addressed for what they are. We are thankful that this incident has given us the opportunity to learn and improve.”

Prior to the meeting, the JCR passed a motion donating £720 to the Minnesota Freedom Fund and associated charities.

Students have since created a template JCR motion to be presented to colleges. It states: “I call upon my JCR to table a motion condemning the handling of these hustings by the Christ Church JCR and call for the resignation of the Returning Officer and an apology from the Christ Church JCR.

“A successful motion in each JCR would show this and thus help provide a semblance of reassurance to the brave individual who spoke up, as well as others affected, about our student body at Oxford as a whole.”

The motion calls the events “disgraceful” and adds that “responsibility was on [the Returning Officer] to condemn this remark as soon as it was said”.

A statement made by Christ Church says: “Christ Church condemns the deeply offensive remarks that were made during the recent JCR Hustings, which appeared to make light of the appalling death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We are taking the incident extremely seriously and have investigated what took place.” 

The College’s Censors said: “We completely support the frank words of the JCR President, who has kept us fully informed about the incident that took place during the recent Hustings held on Zoom. Christ Church is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for all, whatever their background, or the colour of their skin. Racism, in any form, cannot and will not be tolerated and it is completely unacceptable if any student felt uncomfortable, let alone distressed, at this meeting.”

“We have been deeply impressed by those who spoke up during the meeting, and for their honesty and openness in discussions afterwards, as well as by the students who have contacted us individually to share their concerns. From the ongoing conversations we have had, there can be no doubt that our students and the wider Christ Church community take a very clear stance against racism and were dismayed to hear about this incident. We will continue to work closely with all our students to ensure that Christ Church provides a welcoming and supportive home for everyone. We expect all members of our community to adhere to our Equality policy and will be dealing with violations of this policy through our established procedures.” 

“Although an anti-bias session is already a compulsory element of our induction programme, it has become evident that this is not enough. We will therefore work with students to ensure that not only freshers, but the entire community, continues to confront the very real impact of racial bias and all forms of discrimination. To that end, we will be taking concrete steps to introduce new and ongoing initiatives to combat prejudice and to give everyone—students and staff—the tools to stand up for the values of tolerance and equality that Christ Church embraces today. We all have much to learn, but we are committed to fostering a culture of mutual respect both at Christ Church and in the wider world.”

Image credit to Toby Ord/ Wikimedia Commons.

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