On February 4, the University of Warwick campus burst into a hive of activity as hundreds of members of the student body, as well as numerous dedicated staff and alumni congregated to demonstrate against the University’s handling over what was dubbed the “group chat scandal” by a writer for Warwick’s student newspaper, The Boar.
In particular, the “Reclaim our University” demonstration was initiated following the student body’s outrage over the decision by the University to: “allow a group of men who made online rape threats against fellow students back on campus after only a year of suspension.” This was the second demonstration held by the students of Warwick University in response to leaked screenshots made by a group of male students in a group chat, which revealed racist and anti-semitic comments as well as numerous threats of rape and sexual assault.
The initial protest was held on May 18th. Whilst the primary focus of both demonstrations was on the actions of the students involved in the group chat and the University’s subsequent reluctance to discipline them to the satisfaction of the majority of the student body, the protests also attempted to vocalise the student opposition to campus Rape Culture. The event was hosted by numerous student political activist organisations including, but not restricted to Warwick Anti-Racism Society, Warwick Anti-Sexism Society and Warwick For Free Education.
It is worth noting that in the details of the Facebook event that marks out the date for the protest, there can be found the following damning indictment of the University that: “The higher education of privileged young men who would joke about endangering their fellow students is not more important than the safety and welfare of those they targeted.”
The sentiment that the supposed freedom of the men to make offensive jokes should not supersede the rights of the women and people of colour who asserted that they were threatened by said jokes to feel safe on campus appears to be a popular one amongst the more outspoken members of Warwick’s student activists and journalists.
One article in The Tab makes the compelling argument that although “they said it was a joke, to any girl named in that chat, it was a direct threat.” As if that were not enough, a piece in The Boar which was written a year prior to the group chat scandal which garnered nationwide attention, could be considered a precursor to the current critiques regarding the men’s freedom of speech. The article, written by India Mae-Alby, states: “Do you and should you possess freedom of speech? Yes. Do you and should you possess the right to dehumanise other people? No”.
That seems like a simple enough principle to stand on. The line is drawn at dehumanising or hateful language, regardless of the form in which such language manifests. It should be noted that Mae-Alby, following this political article for The Boar and prior to the very first Reclaim Warwick University March, submitted a photo series called “Black Boy Shopping” to Liberationzine: an online magazine dedicated to “centralising marginalised voices”. Why bring up Liberationzine? Well, because the magazine was founded by Ademola Anjorin and Larissa Kennedy, both of whom serve on the executive for the Warwick Anti-Sexism Society and the Warwick Anti-Racist Society, whilst also being heavily involved in the most recent Reclaim Warwick University protest.
On February 21, The Warwick Eye published an article revealing multiple harrowing tweets made by the aforementioned Ademola Anjorin, the former President of the Warwick Anti-Racism Society and the Public Relations Officer of the Warwick Anti-Sexism Society. In one tweet, Anjorin seems to have encouraged acid attacks to be carried out against Conservatives, in particular, the College Republicans of Florida State University.
Given the fact that, according to the front page of the Acid Attack Survivors International website, 80% of the people affected by this specific crime are women, such comments coming from the Public Relations Officer of a feminist student society are all the more nauseating. At the very least, it cannot be denied that such a gross comment could be perceived as wildly inappropriate for someone of Anjorin’s position amongst the Warwick student body.
To quote from Mae-Alby’s article, surely such a lackadaisical reference to a practice as abhorrent as an acid attack towards a group with alternative political values to yourself is, at the very least, somewhat “dehumanising”?
In a second tweet, Anjorin commented that unspecified persons should “enjoy your free speech all you want” before adding “it won’t stop us from killing you. Your time is coming”. Although it is difficult to verify the context of this threat against his fellow students, The Warwick Eye claimed that this appeared to be in direct reference to the organizers of the controversial Anne Marie Waters talk. The evidence that they base this claim on is due to a previous tweet from that same day, referring to the use of Freedom of Speech as a justification for inviting her onto campus. “It won’t stop us from killing you. Your time is coming”. It is far harder to dismiss this as an offensive joke. The wording makes Anjorin’s intentions clear; this tweet is an appeal to mob “justice”; a childish attempt at intimidation better suited to a bully than a student activist. For any student involved in organising, or any student who even considered attending, the Anne Marie Waters talk might be inclined to consider such statements a “direct threat”.
What is worse, however, than the comments made by Ademola Anjorin has been the complete and utter lack of response from the student body. Only a few weeks ago, Warwick campus was alive with protests being carried out by hundreds of students in response to the misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic comments exposed in the group chat. Petitions were shared to have the boys permanently barred from campus. Student media outlets rightfully condemned the contents of the chat. Yet there has been no backlash to the disgusting public tweets made by Anjorin. Where are all the activists, who tirelessly campaigned to make their campus a safer place for Women and BAME students? Where have they disappeared to in the wake of Anjorin’s problematic comments? Did they run out of placards?
Even Larissa Kennedy, the co-founder of Liberationzine alongside Anjorin, had nothing to say. The former candidate for President of the Student Union has described Anjorin as a “beautiful, caring, insightful soul & incredibly dedicated activist” in a tweet dating back to February 7. Kennedy has failed to condemn the comments made by Anjorin. How is this acceptable? Someone who has prioritized tougher sanctions for any “forms of oppression that make University particularly unsafe for certain student communities” in her manifesto has nothing to say about threats of violence and horrific jokes about acid attacks being made when it’s by somebody that she knows?
Someone with as much influence within student political activist groups cannot pen an article for The Huffington Post condemning Warwick University for “having turned a blind eye to a rampant rape culture on our campus,” whilst having nothing to say about the sickening comments made by one of her fellow activists.
If someone stands on double standards, eventually they will find themselves with no standards left at all.