Get real UK Universities
Universities UK have issued some guidance on separating genders during debate,* apparently it is OK if the facilities are separate but equal. Women can be placed separately from men as long as they aren’t seated behind. Because in some sort of alternate reality this is perfectly acceptable equality. Separate but equal.
And where have we heard that nonsense before?
Life is complicated. To segregate or not to segregate based gender, race, creed, colour, sexual orientation, or whatever discriminatory category you choose to pick is not, however, a complex issue. In fact it is pretty straightforward if you are a public body in a democratic society, you don’t do it.
Apparently this is quite a difficult concept for Universities UK, who have magically transported themselves back to mentality of lawmakers in the US South in the 1870s. They have also managed to forget the landmark case of Brown vs. Board of Education where the US Supreme Court deemed that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” (the UK never had such policies).
Segregation at the behest of a controversial speaker is an issue which arises “all the time” and banning men and women from sitting next to each during debates is a “big issue” facing universities, Universities UK has said.
How on earth can this possibly be a ‘big issue’ ? If the speaker requests that genders (or whoever) should be separated, the answer should be a polite, respectable, PR-compliant form of ‘tough shit’. This is not a hard issue. You don’t do it. Full stop. End of. And please don’t try to couch it as some sort of difficult, soul-searching issue. It isn’t. Segregation is not acceptable, don’t do it.
I ask the leaders of Universities UK, what kind of message does this send? Universities should be the place where ideas are discussed, equality is striven for, openness and debate are applauded, exemplifying the epitome of a free society. Granted this is the ideal, but any University policy should uphold this ideal. You can’t just change your policy because someone *important* requests it. By this guidance, Universities UK give the message that discrimination is OK, if you are famous/important that is, otherwise Universities really should be against this sort of thing.
I was an undergraduate at the University of Tennessee (USA). During my time there, every Summer the university was ‘rented’ as a convention venue by one of the very-conservative-religious groups from somewhere in Tennessee. They paid a fair amount of money to use the place. One summer, this convention happened to coincide with the university art-school exhibit of nudes, which was displayed prominently in the student center. The head of the very-conservative-religious group went to the President of the university to complain and have the art removed. The President said, in a decision that surprised all of us who were convinced the Uni was just money hungry, NO. In no uncertain terms, no.
If you ask me, the ‘leaders’ of Universities UK might just learn a thing or two from old Joseph E. Johnson, who knew how to draw the line between the requests of the few vs. the rights of many. No matter how rich, important or controversial they may be.
*I have linked to a Telegraph article above, but here is a link to the actual advice from UK Universities – see page 27 – Thanks to Ian Hopkinson and Bob O’Hara for pointing this out.