An event organised by the University of Essex Students’ Union Conservative Society involving an external guest speaker, Colonel Richard Kemp retd., took place on 19 October 2021. The event went ahead with a counter protest and a number of complaints were made following the event, including the use of a chant considered to be antisemitic. Antisemitism is antithetical to the values of the University of Essex and has no place at our university.
On receipt of the complaints, these were immediately investigated. The investigation concluded that individuals were not subject to intimidation either before or after the speaker event and the complaint concerning antisemitism was not upheld. The investigation partially upheld one concern that rules had not been followed in relation to the identification of a no-filming zone. The investigation report made other recommendations and actions in relation to these are being taken forward as part of the updating of the University’s Speaker Code of Practice and our Zero Tolerance guidance.
The University has a specific responsibility to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law, to ensure that a diversity of voices and views can be heard on our campuses. Sometimes this means convening difficult and uncomfortable conversations and allowing the expression of views and ideas that some may find challenging or unpopular. In upholding free speech within the law, there is a legitimate place for counter-speech. We also want to ensure that there is support for members in our community who may find some lawful views objectionable or offensive.
The behaviour investigated included complaints about the use by protestors of a chant amongst others that is linked to Hamas. Whilst complaints about the use of the chant in October 2021 were not upheld, in November 2021, the status of Hamas as a proscribed terrorist organisation was extended to cover the political as well as the military wing of the group. In the light of this change, the University sought additional legal advice on whether the use of the chant now would be likely to be considered unlawful. We will incorporate the advice we have received in our approach to the operation of our Speaker Code of Practice. Amongst the other actions resulting from the investigation, the University will be working with the Students’ Union to review the training that is available to support student understanding of freedom of speech, how it is managed and supported through the University’s Policy on Academic Freedom and Freedom of Speech and Speaker Code of Practice, and how counter-speech and protest can take place in ways that meet the same standards and are appropriate, safe and peaceful.
In tackling all forms of antisemitism, even in the case of expressions of prejudice that do not cross the threshold required for a regulatory response, doing nothing is not an option. We will, therefore, also redouble our efforts to ensure the University is a welcoming and supportive community for Jewish staff and students and revisit the recommendations in the University’s June 2019 ‘Review of the Experiences of Jewish Students and Staff at the University of Essex’ Report to ensure that we continue to promote our commitment to our Jewish staff and students.
If you are affected by views that you encounter on campus, either directly or indirectly, confidential support is available through the Student Wellbeing and Inclusivity Service or the Employee Assistance Programme available to all staff.