Trans students ‘shocked and dismayed’ by uni’s ‘hypocritical’ defence of professor Kathleen Stock

The trade union for UK academics has issued a statement in the row over anti-trans professor Kathleen Stock

The University of Sussex has been accused of being hypocritical, “anti-student and pro-transphobia” by trans and non-binary students amid a row over one of its professors.

On Wednesday (6 October), students at the university launched a campaign calling for trans-exclusionary professor Kathleen Stock to be fired over her past comments about gender identity.

The philosophy lecturer recently released a controversial book setting out her “gender critical” views, including that biological sex is immutable. She has previously said that “trans women are still males with male genitalia” but vehemently denies being transphobic.

Stock has described LGBT+ charity Stonewall as “a threat to freedom of speech”, and believes that university staff should have an untrammelled right to say what they like, including to “criticise gender identity ideology and trans activism”. An anonymous group of students say they have had “enough”, and are demanding her removal.

The University of Sussex publicly defended Stock after the student campaign was launched. Adam Tickell, vice chancellor at the institution, promised officials would investigate “activity on our campus which appears to have been designed to attack professor Kathleen Stock for exercising her academic freedoms”.

Tickell went on to characterise the student campaign as a “threat to cherished academic freedoms”, and. A second statement issued on behalf of the university described the student campaign as “harassment” of Stock.

Amelia Jones is the students’ union officer for trans and non-binary students at the University of Sussex. She was dismayed when she saw how the university responded.

“[My reaction was] one of shock and disappointment, reading an adamant defence of Professor Stock, with no acknowledgement of trans and non-binary students or staff at all,” Jones told PinkNews.

“The hypocrisy is it’s academic freedom for staff, but investigations for students,” she added.

“Professor Stock has not released a single academic piece in a peer-reviewed journal about trans issues. Yet the uni defends her for her opinions and ideas about trans people as though they are rigorous, well-evidenced academic pieces (which they are clearly not). This is just another example of the problematic way that academic freedom is interpreted at Sussex.”

Trans and non-binary Sussex students ‘missing out on education’

Jones met with members of the university’s leadership team on Friday afternoon (8 October) to discuss the furore. She said she tried to arrange a time that would suit the vice chancellor to attend, but received an email from his personal assistant saying that he was unable to make the appointment. Jones said she offered to meet at another time, but has not yet received any commitment on a meeting.

“The vice chancellor still has not met with his own trans students to see how they are feeling, which I do find to be an utter disgrace,” Jones said.

Because she works closely with trans and non-binary students, Jones is aware of the impact Stock’s comments about trans people have had. She is aware of students who have swapped courses entirely to avoid being in her classes, while some “do not show up for their lessons” because they don’t want to be taught by Stock.

“This shows the major impact it is having on students, that some of them are changing their courses or missing out on their education – the main reason they are at university – as a result,” Jones said.

After the university released its statement, Jones worked with the students’ union to bring together a trans and non-binary peer group to discuss how people were feeling about the furore.

“It was said by many students that they didn’t feel listened to, they felt ignored,” Jones said. “Also, there was a feeling that the university has not offered support. While the uni has posted a mini-statement titled ‘Here to Support You’, with a link to some resources, this feels like the bare minimum, and it does not feel as though this was done in support of trans students. It has not been well signposted either.”

Jones is now calling on the university to take students’ concerns seriously.

“I think it’s a dangerous precedent to set if the university decides they can fire people without due process – but the point is here they haven’t even started the process of looking into her harms or engaging with what students are saying,” Jones said.

“Therefore, I feel an investigation is needed, for trans students to be listened to and their concerns taken seriously.”

Non-binary Sussex student felt ‘nauseous’ when they read the university’s response to Kathleen Stock furore

Tom Pashby is a non-binary master’s student at the University of Sussex. They told PinkNews that they were “naively surprised” by the university’s statement issued in support of Kathleen Stock.

“Loads of my friends who are Sussex students who are trans or non-binary have been a lot more anti-Sussex than I have in the past two years, but I’ve been trying to keep a more open mind about it,” Pashby said.

“I guess those people’s attitudes is partly in relation to Kathleen Stock being awarded an OBE [in January 2021] and then Sussex celebrating that, because there’s no obligation on the university to celebrate who’s getting honours – they can just get it and not make a big fanfare out of it.”

Pashby felt “nauseous” when they saw that the University of Sussex was prepared to “so actively support transphobia”.

“Also, supporting somebody who’s in a position of power over people who have the least power, as in students – particularly trans and non-binary students – as we all well know, all the institutions in the UK are basically stacked against trans and non-binary people anyway without Sussex kicking us when we’re down.”

Pashby is keen to point out that their experience as a non-binary student at the University of Sussex has broadly been “really great”. Their lecturers have made sure to use their correct pronouns and be respectful of their gender identity. One of their lecturers even encouraged students to add their pronouns to their online profiles.

They were just completely anti-student and pro-transphobia.

However, they have been left dismayed and confused by the university’s official stance on the ongoing Kathleen Stock row.

“Normally in a situation like this, when it’s seen as politically controversial, an institution like a university will try and take a middle ground approach and try to be a bit more conciliatory. But they didn’t do that at all. They were just completely anti-student and pro-transphobia,” Pashby said.

“If this was about any other form of discrimination we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the University of Sussex insisted that the institution is committed to getting the “balance right” in its response to the Kathleen Stock controversy.

University of Sussex professor Dr Kathleen Stock

University of Sussex professor Dr Kathleen Stock.

“We have acted – and will continue to act – firmly and promptly to tackle bullying and harassment, to defend the fundamental principle of academic freedom, to support our community and continue to progress our work on equality, diversity and inclusion,” a spokesperson said.

“We care deeply about getting this balance right.

“There are a range of very strong views and opinions held across the university on a whole variety of issues and topics, including how we support our trans and non-binary community particularly at this time.

“As a community, we need to come together and talk about what is happening at the moment and to look at the way forward. We will be doing this in the coming weeks and this will be led by our newly appointed pro-vice chancellor for culture, equality and inclusion.”

Sussex’s union for staff has condemned ‘transphobia’ at the university

The furore surrounding Stock is unlikely to die down anytime soon – Sussex UCU, the union for university staff, condemned transphobia in a statement on Tuesday (12 October).

The union said the “dignity and respect of trans and non-binary staff and students” should be at the core of the university’s culture.

“UCU will always fight for safe and secure working environments at our institution. We do not endorse the call for any worker to be summarily sacked and we oppose all forms of bullying, harassment, intimidation of staff and students,” the statement said.

“There should be no contradiction between defending academic freedom and supporting trans rights and in this respect we emphasise UCU’s national position that the enactment of academic freedom is both essential to the work of Higher Education and ‘comes with the responsibility to respect the democratic rights and freedoms of others’.

“What we do call for, then, is an urgent investigation into the ways in which institutional transphobia operates at our university and diminishes the democratic rights and freedoms of some of its most vulnerable members.”

Stock tweeted the statement on Tuesday (12 October) and claimed that it had “effectively ended her career” at the university. It was not immediately clear how.

She had previously tweeted regarding the anonymous student campaign: “If you work where I do, and you know what’s happening to me at the moment (which I’ll discuss at [a] later date), this is the time to say something about it. Not for me, but for you. What kind of future does a university have where intimidation determines what is said or taught?”

PinkNews has contacted Kathleen Stock and the University of Sussex for comment.