University scholars compare feminist conference to ‘enabling eugenics’
University academics have compared a feminist conference promoting women’s rights on campus to “enabling eugenics”.
Police were called to University College London (UCL) on Saturday as about two dozen transgender rights activists banged on windows and allegedly assaulted a woman while the Education For Women’s Liberation conference was held.
About 900 people, including academics, students and writers, gathered on the leading Russell Group campus to discuss how scholarly research can “bring feminism back into the lecture theatres”.
However, as it began at 9am, two lecturers who co-direct qUCL, a staff and student research group on gender studies and queer theory, released a statement comparing the conference to eugenics.
Dr Simon Lock, a UCL associate professor of science communication, and Dr Xine Yao, a lecturer in American literature, wrote: “We are deeply concerned that inviting speakers and organisations who are well known to promote anti-trans and anti-queer views onto our campus invalidates the hard work UCL has undertaken over the last several years to address issues of EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion], including the legacy of eugenics and debates about anti-Semitism.”
Their statement added: “Debate and dissent are foundational to scholarly inquiry, however false equivalence is damaging.
“To entertain uniformed positions that hurt, or worse question the validity of marginalised peoples, places UCL in the position of once again enabling the likes of the eugenics conferences that ran on campus through 2017.”
Their comments sparked condemnation from leading professors in attendance, especially since UCL was the first UK university to admit women on equal terms to men, in 1878.
Alice Sullivan, a professor of sociology at UCL, who spoke on a panel, told The Telegraph: “The idea that believing that sex matters is somehow comparable to eugenics is grotesque and defamatory.”
Another panel speaker, Prof Jo Phoenix, a criminology expert at the University of Reading, said: “To compare feminist ideas and debate, to the ideology that led to the murder and sterilisation of millions worldwide is both supremely anti-academic and, quite frankly, disgusting.”
The Metropolitan Police confirmed it was called just after 3.40pm to “disorder associated with a demo” and there was “an allegation that someone tried to grab something”.
Katy Worley, the founder of the Make More Noise feminist group, told The Telegraph she was filming about 25 trans activist protesters chanting outside the UCL’s Institute of Education, when “a hooded gentleman came up to me, said ‘Stop filming me!’ and then grabbed my phone, wrestled it out of my hand and threw it over a wall”.
She added: “He pulled both of my thumbs back, which are now bruised and hurt. I held onto his rucksack and shouted for security saying ‘Help! Help! Help! I’m being assaulted!’ He tussled with me and ran down the street and disappeared.”
Police officers attended and she reported an assault and theft.
Trans rights activists chanted: “When trans rights are under attack, we fight back!” In videos on social media, one attendee, Sarah Jane Baker, a transgender convict who served 30 years behind bars for kidnapping and attempted murder, shouted at attendees telling them they are “c---s”.
Another trans rights activist, visibly angry, shouted at Prof Phoenix and other attendees to wild cheers via a megaphone: “You try to deny our existence! Literally f--- you! This is our university! This is our space! You are not welcome here and we will make sure that you will never, ever be here again!”
Raquel Rosario Sanchez, a women’s rights campaigner who also spoke on a panel, said that the activists “circled the building from outside” and “were shouting and stomping outside our window so we had to change rooms”.
Judith Green, the director of Woman’s Place UK which organised the conference with the UCL Women’s Liberation group, said: “While initially peaceful, this [protest] did become intimidating with protestors banging on windows, clearly designed to, and did, cause distress to women attendees.”
This was the latest clash between gender-critical feminists and trans rights activists. Last year, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary at the time, was hounded out of the University of Warwick campus by trans rights activists.
A UCL spokesman said: “We are aware that this was an event that some people feel strongly about, both in opposition and support.
“Reflecting our long tradition of safeguarding freedom of speech, we uphold the rights of our staff and students to facilitate debate and exercise their academic freedom of enquiry.
“We view the right to debate and challenge ideas as fundamental to the nature of a university, and are committed to ensuring that free and open discussion can take place in an atmosphere of tolerance for different viewpoints.”