The Oxford Union’s Treasurer Kesaia Toganivalu has resigned her post in protest against the decision to invite Dr Debra Soh to speak at the Union.
She told Cherwell: “My resignation means nothing. It means nothing at all. This term, the election will roll back around and the same committee members who knew of the illegal gathering or were in attendance themselves, will ask for your votes. I was out of the running a good while ago, but in spite of the scandals, I stayed on as a matter of pride and out of a belief I could do better work from within. I was wrong, and I refuse to be part of it anymore. Eventually you have to put your own happiness first.”
The Union responded to Kesaia Toganivalu’s opinion that an “illegal gathering” took place, describing this as “falsely claimed” and “incorrect” information.
In an email to the President of the Union, she said that it had “not been an easy decision to make” but that she could not continue in her position “in good faith”.
She went on to ask: “Why is it that when a speaker whose views so strongly affected the LGBTQIA community was invited, the Oxford Union’s LGBTQIA officer was not consulted? You can believe in free speech and still believe in showing compassion to a minority group, of which some of our members belong to.
“The Oxford Union is a society of the University of Oxford, and we should have worked harder to work with our fellow students rather than in spite of them.”
Debra Soh is scheduled to give her talk at the Union on the 19th February. She has been criticised for stating that there “is definitely a correlation between autism and gender dysphoria” as “for some people with autism they fixate on things, go through periods of being really into one thing – gender could be one of those”.
Her invitation has sparked a backlash from the Oxford Student Union’s Disability Campaign, with her comments said to be “using autism as a vague talking point to dismiss trans rights”. Meanwhile, Oxford SU LGBTQ+ Campaign said that she was “hardly qualified to comment on these issues and her positions are unequivocally transphobic.”
Toganivalu was previously the Secretary of the Union. After the previous Treasurer’s resignation, she was appointed Treasurer.
The former Treasurer’s resignation email also referenced a controversy which engulfed the Union earlier in the term regarding an alleged gathering in contravention of coronavirus legislation, asking “why is it that a leadership meeting was held about the invitation of Graham Linehan, but not the fall out of that illegal gathering? Why did no member of committee, who gave personal testimony to me that there was a party come forward and bring it to the attention of committee? I have often felt like a joke on this committee, with the way everyone has treated the party like an open-secret, and as though I am just a joke for wanting us to be better.
“This term has seen the Oxford Union plagued with scandal after scandal, and I feel I can no longer do any good as an Officer of this Committee”.
Kesaia Toganivalu was part of the CREATE slate which was elected to all the major positions within the Union. Their proposals included improvement to access and reduced membership fees.
James Price, President of the Oxford Union for the term Hilary 2021 told Cherwell: “I want to thank the Treasurer for her efforts this term, and wish her well in her future endeavours. A constructive meeting of the Union’s access committee today discussed the invitation of Dr Soh at length, and ended parsimoniously, with the agreement that the Committee would work on a task force to extensively prepare me for the interview. I’m very proud of the Committee for showing its’ [sic] ability to disagree well.”
Image Credit: Barker Evans.
22/01/21, 20:04 – The article was edited to include a comment from James Price and the Union.