A London university has banned an Islamic organisation from its campus, after it attempted to segregate an audience at one of its debates by gender.
University College London (UCL) acted swiftly against the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA) after it ruled that the group had contravened university statutes against segregation on any grounds.
Organisers of the debate ‘Islam or Atheism: Which makes more sense’ allegedly told women to sit at the back, but allowed men and couples to sit at the front. However, when Prof Lawrence Krauss, who was due to speak for atheism at the debate, saw people being moved, he walked out to a mixture of cheers and boos.
UCL said in a statement: "We do not allow enforced segregation on any grounds [but] it now appears that, despite our clear instructions, attempts were made to enforce segregation at the meeting.
“We are still investigating what actually happened at the meeting but, given IERA’s original intentions for a segregated audience we have concluded that their interests are contrary to UCL’s ethos and that we should not allow any further events involving them to take place on UCL premises.”
One woman who attended the debate, Dana Sondergaard, wrote on her blog that “two gentlemen unknowingly entered through the door allocated for women and were promptly asked to leave.”
“One of the gentlemen who had been asked to leave was arguing with the event staff when Krauss went over to alleviate the situation. He spoke briefly with the gentlemen and the event staff before declaring that he would not participate in a debate in which the audience was segregated by gender.
“So Krauss packed his bags, apologized, and headed for the door. As he was walking out, a chorus of boos and applause filled the auditorium. Event staff quickly intercepted Krauss on his way to the door, assuring that the gentlemen could come back in and that segregated seating would not continue to be enforced. Krauss agreed to stay, and after a bit more shuffling around everyone took their seats, anxiously waiting to hear what the two had to say.”
A spokesman for iERA said: "iERA complied with the request from the University to cater for all preferences by having seating that was open for all attendees, male or female, and two sections to accommodate those that wished to adhere to their deeply held religious beliefs.
"We also adhered to UCL’s request to make sure that the respective areas were clearly marked and ushers were employed in order to facilitate the seating. iERA is an inclusive organisation [which] seeks to accommodate varying needs. It is a common practice amongst Muslim communities across the UK, based across different schools of thought, to have separate seating arrangements for men and women out of modesty."