Cardiff students have sparked national debate, after a controversial petition launched to ban academic Germaine Greer’s visit to the Universty has attracted widespread media attention.
The petition, which was started by Cardiff Students’ Union Women’s Officer Rachael Melhuish has reached over 1,000 signatures, and has been covered in national media including the Guardian and the Independent.
On Friday, Greer announced that she would not travel to Cardiff during an interview on BBC Newsnight last Friday, only a day after the start of the petition.
However, the University have now confirmed that her lecture, named ‘Women and Power: the lessons of the 20th Century’ will go ahead as planned.
A University spokesperson said: “We have been in contact with Germaine Greer’s representatives since her appearance on Newsnight and the lecture is scheduled to go ahead next month.
“We respect the rights of students to petition but having considered our duties in respect of freedom of speech and equality and diversity legislation, we are allowing the event to take place in line with the safeguards of our Freedom of Speech Code.”
The news comes despite the academic describing the protests of students as “abuse” during Newsnight: “I’m 76, I don’t want to go down there and be screamed at and have things thrown at me. Bugger it”
She also stated that she had not planned on discussing her views on transgender during the lecture.
Despite being a celebrated feminist, the academic has caused widespread controversy after stating in January that trans women “are not women” and that allowing individuals to undergo surgical procedure during transition was “unethical”.
As a result, students took to social media to express their outrage at Greer’s initial planned appearance at the University.
“Germaine Greer is a noted advocate of women’s rights, however not for all women,” one first year student expressed. “Her past comments in regards to trans women and transphobia are not what the University should be advocating themselves by hosting her: when those views go against the duty of care that the University has to all its students.”
Talking to Gair Rhydd only a day after the petition’s launch, Students’ Union LGBT+ Officer Jack Miles said: “I feel that the University giving Greer a platform is extremely problematic. While her contributions to the Feminist cause are unquestionable, her outspoken transphobia is of deep concern and should not be tolerated
“I’d much rather we didn’t host her, but if the event goes ahead it should be under strict terms – or, better still, her transphobia should be directly called into question.”
In a statement, the Women’s Officer also condemned Greer for her “misogynistic views towards trans women, including continually misgendering trans women and denying the existence of transphobia altogether.”
She continued: “Universities should prioritize the voices of the most vulnerable on their campuses, not invite speakers who seek to further marginalize them.
Similar views were also expressed in a letter written to the University.
In reaction to the news, Payton Quinn, who identities as gender fluid, wrote: “For the sake of making a safe space for all students and members of the community, you cannot allow this transphobic woman a platform which she will use to continue her incitement of violence against trans people.”
Despite such comments, the University maintain that it strives to welcome and not isolate its students.
Talking to Gair Rhydd, Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Professor Riordan emphasised the University’s commitment to its LGBT+ students and staff, stating “we work hard to provide a positive and welcoming space for LGBT+ people and we are in consultation with student and staff groups to ensure that the views of LGBT+ people are represented at our events.”
Riordan also emphasised the University’s commitment to its LGBT+ students and staff, stating that “we fully recognise the tremendous benefits having such a diverse community brings to Cardiff University.”
Defending Greer’s lecture, he stressed that “events within the University events include speakers with a range of views, all of which are rigorously challenged and debated. This event will be no different.
“We in no way condone discriminatory comments of any kind.”
Eleanor Prescott, a third year Journalism student, also voiced the importance of holding Greer’s lecture in the interest of creating a debate.
She said: “Just because someone holds problematic views, doesn’t mean we should automatically censor them, because the reaction that provokes is not a progressive one. Challenge them. Challenge ignorance with better information”.
Melhuish and her petition have been criticized by others online, with some calling the movement “absurd” and unnecessary censorship.
A counter-petition describing the Women’s Office’s actions as a “witch hunt” has received over 1,000 signatures. The petition’s description likens calling Greer a “transphobe” to “calling someone a ‘commie’ in 1960’s America during the cold war”.
When asked to weigh in on the debate, Cardiff Students’ Union President Claire Blakeway reminded students that it is the role of the Student Senate to vote and agree upon the Union’s political policies and that motions can be submitted to Senate until Tuesday October 29th.
When asked whether the SU would support Melhuish’s petition, she also stated that “Cardiff University Students’ Union will continue to support its Campaign Officers as they campaign on issues affecting students at Cardiff University”.