The People’s Republic of Worcester College

A student dares to cross the red quad and speak out about a shoddy show trial

Artillery Row

Less than a month after Christian Concern’s Wilberforce Academy, Worcester College apologised for hosting us and cancelled the preliminary booking for next year. Although it is a relief to hear that Worcester College has now said it “looks forward to welcoming Christian Concern back”, an examination must be had as to why the Academy was cancelled in the first place. 

I should warn readers that the Wilberforce Academy does not shy away from difficult subjects. The Academy is countercultural, unafraid to discuss issues that are now politically incorrect. Throughout the course, which runs for one week, the Academy aims to provide all delegates with a Christian worldview. This ranges from understanding Islam and the unique history of the West, to a Biblical perspective on economics and a Christian response to transgenderism. 

None of the students were actually present for any of the talks

The Academy is both thorough and educational. I attended more lectures in one week at the Wilberforce Academy than I have in two years at university. The fact that Christian Concern prioritises truth and aims to speak of Jesus Christ in addressing every public matter is clearly part of the nature of the Academy. I always say to those interested in attending that it excels in teaching, particularly on the relationship between Christianity and culture. You would think that Worcester College, situated at the heart of a great city of learning, would be able to tolerate this, but we discovered this was not the case. Our teaching on the relationship between Christianity and culture suddenly became very relevant indeed.

Late last September, Worcester College sent an email to all its students (subsequently printed in a student newspaper), apologising for hosting the academy. David Isaac, the Provost of Worcester and the former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, personally told his students that “our normal vetting processes did not work”, and that letting Christian Concern use the college facilities was “a serious failure”. 

It is unsurprising that the college struggled to cope with our counter-cultural nature. It has been known to label itself as the “People’s Republic of Worcester College” for its abolition of college traditions including saying grace before meals. The previous Provost, Professor “Red Kate” Turnstall, led 150 academics to threaten to boycott students over the Cecil Rhodes statue at Oriel college. But this sort of thing is typical of universities in general. Nottingham University denied chaplaincy to an orthodox catholic, David Palmer, and retracted Tony Sewell’s honorary degree over the “political controversy” of his race report. Durham University has pushed to decolonise mathematics, and addressed 1,500 student complaints over a Rod Liddle speech. Oxford in many ways acted in line with what has become an increasingly dangerous norm of cancel culture.

I don’t believe Worcester College could have known why it apologised for hosting the Wilberforce Academy. Although it became aware of the topic titles discussed in the Academy, it did not actually know what was said. None of the staff team were present at any talks, and neither were any College students. The idea that we caused, in David Isaac’s words, “significant distress” — enough to prompt recommendations to speak to the welfare team — is completely unfounded, since none of his students were actually present for any of the teaching.

The college acted on unevidenced complaints

Since I was at the Academy, however, I can report what was said. We heard powerful stories from people who deeply regretted their gender transition, and bravely de-transitioned. We heard from multiple people who had been helped by so-called “conversion therapy” and were terrified of it being made illegal by the government. We also heard from people who deeply regretted their abortions. Voices like these go silenced when the Wilberforce Academy is not allowed to happen. 

Worcester overreacted to a tiny number of unevidenced student complaints. The additional issue raised by the college’s finance bursar that we were “unduly demanding” in breaking Covid rules appears to have been quietly dropped. If Wilberforce delegates found our apparent breach of Covid rules startling, the accusation of “aggressive leafletting” was utterly risible. There was not a single leaflet anywhere during Wilberforce — the claim was simply untrue. 

The independent review on the matter agreed that the college acted on complaints despite their being entirely unevidenced. Although the college has now rescinded its apology for hosting Christian Concern, it is clear that it did not want us there. Why else would it act so zealously upon a tiny number of claims that were totally unfounded? Toby Young, of the Free Speech Union, rightly points out that “nine times out of ten, these injustices go unchallenged”. I can only hope that the college upholds its commitment to free speech and religious belief in the future.

Daniel Dieppe is a 2021 Wilberforce Academy Graduate.

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