UNDERGRADUATES at an Oxford college banned the Christian Union (CU) from taking part in this year’s freshers’ fair because of fears that the society’s presence could “alienate” and harm the new intake.
The vice-president of Balliol College’s Junior Common Room (JCR), the undergraduate body of the college, Freddy Potts, wrote to the Christian Union to tell it that the JCR welfare sub-committee had decided that it could not have a stall at the college’s freshers’ fair, which took place last week.
“We are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford,” Mr Potts said. “Historically, Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”
The presence of the CU could “alienate” incoming students, and these “micro-aggressions” would “inevitably lead to further harm of the already most vulnerable and marginalised groups”, he said.
“Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians.”
Initially, the JCR wanted to ensure that the freshers’ fair was a “secular space”, as it could not guarantee room for every faith tradition.
In the end, however, the JCR’s solution was to have a single multi-faith stall at the freshers’ fair, representing different religious societies from the college, although the Balliol CU declined to take part, the student newspaper Cherwell reported.
The JCR’s decision has been strongly criticised by Balliol students, and a motion condemning the ban as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom” has been passed, the BBC reported. The motion also forbids the JCR’s barring religious groups from future freshers’ fairs.
The Church of England’s chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: “Christian Unions represent some of the largest student-led organisations in many universities across the country, and to exclude them in this way is to misunderstand the nature of debate and dialogue and [is] at odds with the kind of society we are all seeking to promote.”
Balliol CU is affiliated to the Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, one of hundreds of university CUs across the country, which are run as a network by the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
The director of the UCCF, the Revd Richard Cunningham, said: “We are . . . concerned that the current desire to provide safe spaces on campus does not infringe on the core liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of association, which are surely foundational to the university experience and, indeed, to basic human flourishing.”
‘Progress in the Communion: no one cares’ — Andrew Brown’s press column