Statement on the resignation of a colleague over issues of equality and diversity

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We write in dismay over the resignation of our Durham University colleague and UCU member who is resigning from the university over issues of equality and diversity – more specifically, over university management’s inadequate response to the South College incident and insufficient efforts to improve trans inclusion.

Durham UCU has expressed our concerns publicly and repeatedly since the incident in December 2021, as have other campus groups. Since December, we have called on the University to: issue a full apology; provide a refund to students for the cost of attending the formal; clarify whether Tim Luckhurst’s decision to invite the speaker was approved by anyone else at the University; and consider a full range of policy changes to better protect the welfare of students and staff while ensuring freedom of expression. We wrote again in March, together with the Durham BAME Network, the Durham Intersectional Feminism Society, and the Durham University Labour Club. In that letter, we expressed our concern over the failure to learn lessons from the incident and demanded that the University repair the harm done. The reply to our letter from Antony Long was inadequate, limited to the confidentiality of the HR investigation and the review of how external speakers for College-based events are engaged. It provided no response to the wider range of concerns and demands we had expressed.

Individual members have also raised these concerns with Vice-Chancellor Karen O’Brien in the recent Faculty Town Halls and in University Senate meetings. The trans member of staff who is resigning has also worked tirelessly to call the university to account for the incident. In so doing, she has further attempted to highlight the wider context within which the incident took place, pointing to other ‘institutional or direct queerphobic incidents”. The university has therefore had ample opportunity to reflect on the incident and to respond to it in ways which advance diversity, equality, and inclusion. As far as we can tell, management has singularly failed to do so – in spite of statements made in the immediate aftermath of the incident. Instead, management has driven out a trans member of staff – one whose deep and longstanding commitment to issues of diversity, equality and inclusion has been a valuable asset to the university.

Allowing a trans member of staff to resign over the university’s inadequate response to a significant transphobic incident once again sends a troubling message about the sincerity of management’s commitment to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Durham UCU members discussed these issues at our Annual General Meeting and passed a motion calling upon the University to turn its words into actions and truly take the concerns of Durham University’s trans community seriously.

We wish to state unequivocally: Durham UCU stands with members of all those communities who were targeted in (and in the aftermath of) the incident at South College, including trans and non-binary people. We again call on university management to do better.