The University of St Andrews has come under fire for what some students are calling “transphobic” language in recent statements made by administration.
In an email to the student body, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Sally Mapstone expressed her hope that “trans rights will continue to be the subject of positive personal, academic and political discourse in society.”
She said, “I want St Andrews and its students and staff to consider how we can model to the rest of the country and the world how we surface, debate, and argue about the most difficult and divisive issues in a way which does not leave anyone feeling threatened, vilified on social media, silenced, cancelled, or misrepresented.”
She added, “Inclusiveness means being prepared to listen to opinions and ideas with which we might passionately disagree, and accepting that a truly diverse community is one which is perpetually open to uncomfortable challenge. That is the St Andrews way.”
These statements sparked outrage amongst members of the St Andrews community, who took to social media to voice their frustration. Popular Facebook page for anonymous posting, St Fessdrews, saw an influx of submissions related to the email.
Students also took to Instagram to voice their frustration, with popular post by user Aria Kaul (_ariak.ca_) stating, “The university apparently will do anything they can to avoid actually supporting its trans students and standing up for [trans people] because they know there’s more money to be gained playing both sides.”
Kaul also went on to say, “The existence of trans people and the objective fact that we deserve rights is not something for anyone to debate. We are not a theory or an idea you can disagree with, we are human beings who understand ourselves better than you do.”
The post garnered 471 likes within four hours, and has been reposted by various student societies, with other students posting about the situation, also mentioning a speech given by the Proctor at the Trans Day of Remembrance Vigil.
Kaul said, “I am beyond disappointed to see that [Principal Mapstone] has decided to repeat points from the disrespectful and inappropriate speech made by the Proctor at the Trans Day of Remembrance Vigil.”
Director of Wellbeing and Equality Anna-Ruth Cockerham also expressed disappointment with the University’s statement saying, “The University’s response, which focuses on respectability politics and cancel culture when they should be stating unequivocal support for our trans and non-binary community, is in my opinion disgraceful.”
She added, “At tonight’s SRC meeting the LGBT+ Officer, Michael, shall be presenting a motion which calls on us to condemn these incidents and the groups perpetrating them, work with the University and local government to tackle these hate incidents, improve education on transphobia, and encourage the student body to show solidarity with the trans and non-binary community.”
The hate incidents being referred to by Cockerham include recent incidents of transphobic graffitti around town, as well as social media accounts and posts specifically directing hate towards trans people.
She went on to state her support of the motion, and expressed hope that the rest of the SRC would follow suit.
The motion goes on to specifically call out St Andrews Radical Feminists, a Facebook group not affiliated with the Students’ Association, and proposes a full condemnation of the group.
The group’s Facebook page has 305 likes and regularly posts trans and LGBT+ related content, such as one post reading, “Why worry about heterosexual people being homophobic when gay men will attack gay men for free and do all the homophobic legwork?”
Another post states, “Transgenderism is an ideology which operates very like a cult or religion. There are already many Churches of Trans. Literally.”
The motion was proposed by LGBT+ Officer, Michael Logue, and seconded by the Director of Wellbeing and Equality, the Association President, the Director of Student Development and Activities, and the Director of Events and Services.
Lottie Doherty, Association President, took to Twitter to comment on the situation, saying, “I’m also very happy to be supporting this motion, and really hope that the SRC supports it too. In my opinion, we should take a strong stance on transphobia, and supporting our trans and non-binary students.”
The vote took place on 23 November, with the motion passing.
Following the vote, a Facebook post front the Students’ Association, authored by Cockerham, read, “We need to do more to support our trans and non-binary community. Whether that is calling out (or in) transphobic comments when you hear them, reporting the transphobic incidents you witness in our streets, supporting your trans friends, or campaigning for change.”
She added, “While it is positive to see that in the Principal’s response to students who contacted her Professor Mapstone declares her support for the rights of transgender people and an intolerance for discrimination, it is disappointing that this is not included in the statement sent to all students on Tuesday. It is also further disappointing to see the Principal claim that students are “wilfully misinterpreting” the language in Tuesday’s email. Whether intended or not, this language has made trans students feel unheard and unsafe in the face of a campaign of hate, and, as the good ally the Principal suggests she is, responsibility must be taken for the effect of those words.”