Edinburgh University student Imogen Wilson accused of violating ‘safe space’ rules for raising hand during meeting

Student also reveals how another complaint was almost made against her for shaking her head

Aftab Ali
Student Editor
Monday 04 April 2016 09:21 BST
The University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh (Alamy)

A student has been accused of violating ‘safe space’ rules and faced being removed from a council meeting at the University of Edinburgh after she raised her hand during a debate.

Imogen Wilson, 22, a music student and vice-president of academic affairs at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), was one of hundreds of students to have attended a student council meeting to debate Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).

HuffPost UK reports how the student decided to “respond instinctively” at the meeting after being accused of failing disabled students by not responding to an open letter.

Ms Wilson told the news site: “At that point, I raised my arms in disagreement, as we had contacted the writers of the letter and tried hard to organise a meeting.

“It was for that reason that a safe space complaint was made.”

EUSA’s safe space policy describes how members are expected to “respect the right” of all students attending meetings and staff to enjoy EUSA as a safe space environment, defined as “a space which is welcoming and safe and includes the prohibition of discriminatory language and actions.”

The policy goes on to highlight that members should refrain from hand gestures which “denote disagreement” or “indicate disagreement with a point or points being made.”

Having been accused of breaking the rules, a vote was cast to decide whether the student should have been removed from the meeting, However, after members voted 18 for and 33 against, Ms Wilson was allowed to remain. Shortly after, though, she almost had another complaint made against her - after she shook her head.

She told HuffPost UK: “I did not think that was fair and, had it gone further, I would have either left or argued against it.”

At the end of the debate, the BDS motion was passed with 249 votes for and 153 against.

Describing BDS as a “controversial movement” to boycott products, companies, and institutions that “profit from or are implicated in the violation of Palestinian rights,” Ms Wilson wrote in The Student that she believes the movement “promotes anti-Semitism, and is harmful to Jewish students.”

Ms Wilson described on Facebook how her arguments against BDS were mostly about “the growing anti-Semitism” on UK campuses and about “the costs of doing a review of our products when EUSA is already expecting a deficit budget.”

She continued: “My main concern, as a representative, is about the marginalisation of Jewish and Israeli students on campus, which is becoming a massive issue in lots of places around the UK.

One student at the institution, Charlie Peters, took to Twitter following the incident to say his university was “becoming pathetic” for censoring “inappropriate hand gestures.” He is the same student who recently started an online petition calling for EUSA to “reinstate free speech” which has gathered more than 1,100 signatures.

Writing about the incident on Facebook, Ms Wilson described how “a lot of things happened” at the student council meeting. She said: “About 400 people came which, in itself, is a win for campus democracy.

“However, a motion for EUSA to support BDS passed, despite my passionate speech against it. There was also a safe space complaint made about me for using disapproving arm movements.”

She also added: “EUSA just passed policy to support BDS, something I think will be very harmful and, unfortunately, contribute to the growing anti-Semitism problem that left-wing politics is experiencing in the UK.”

Speaking with the Independent, EUSA president, Jonny Ross-Tatam, said: “A student made a complaint about Imogen during a debate. The majority of students in the room duly dismissed the complaint and the meeting carried on as normal.”

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