Cambridge SU criticises Varsity over coverage of trans rights protest

The statement describes Varsity’s actions as ‘disappointing, irresponsible and ultimately dangerous’

Cambridge SU has released a statement criticising student newspaper Varsity for its recent coverage of trans issues in Cambridge, describing Varsity’s coverage as “disappointing, irresponsible and ultimately dangerous.”

The statement included claims that Varsity has misgendered students, used their photographs without permission, and pressured sabbatical officers to speak to them while at a demonstration.

This comes after the SU LGBT+ Campaign organised a protest for trans rights, as an “alternative event” at the same time as a talk being given by journalist Helen Joyce. Joyce’s invitation to speak at Gonville and Caius College in October was the subject of widespread controversy due to the conflict between Joyce’s and students’ views on transgender issues. The college have stressed the talk was not a college event.

It subsequently emerged that Kathleen Stock – a professor of philosophy who resigned from Sussex University after being the subject of protests by the Anti Terf Sussex group – will be speaking at the Cambridge Union in November as part of a debate entitled “This House believes in the right to offend.” Kathleen Stock has always denied claims that she is transphobic.

The news of Stock speaking at Cambridge was broken by Varsity, however, the SU statement criticised the newspaper for allegedly only giving them one hour and nine minutes to respond when contacted. The statement also alleges that Varsity contacted the sabbatical officer team, rather than reaching out to the elected representatives for trans students directly.

The SU describes this as part of a trend of what it called Varsity’s “inaccurate, sensationalist and harmful reporting.” It goes on to allege that Varsity has been “ignoring and belittling the LGBT+ Campaign”, as well as misgendering students and using their photographs without permission.

The statement is also critical of how Varsity covered the SU LGBT+ Campaign protest. The article entitled “Students protest Joyce talk” appeared in a print edition of Varsity that was released. It included interviews with both those attending the protest and those attending the talk itself.

The SU accuses Varsity of implying in the print article that they were evading comment. The article contained claims that SU officials were “physically interjecting” in on interviews with demonstrators, and that sabbatical officers “walked away from attempts to get their opinions on the event” at “several points during the evening.”

The SU responded to this by saying that the priority of the sabbatical officers was the welfare of the students attending the protest and that to pressure them to “abandon this responsibility” was “inappropriate and inconsiderate.”

The SU statement also alleges that the LGBT+ Campaign President was quoted as “only an SU rep” rather than as the President of a campaign, and was also misgendered in the article. The SU claim they have “repeatedly” asked Varsity to speak to specific representatives for LGBT+ students, who they say Varsity has “repeatedly refused to adequately platform.”

The statement added that “this kind of journalism is doing real harm”, as they reference a rise in students reporting incidents of transphobic harassment to the SU.

When contacted by The Cambridge Tab, the SU LGBT+ Campaign said: “The LGBT+ Campaign supports the statement given by Cambridge SU with regards to Varsity’s coverage of trans issues.

“We hope that Varsity will, going forward, give greater consideration to how their work may play into dangerous narratives around trans people and the LGBT+ community as a whole. The LGBT+ Campaign is grateful for the support of the SU at this difficult time, with levels of transphobia rising across the UK and the university.”

Varsity did not provide a statement for publication in response to our request for comment. Its coverage of the SU in the past includes comment pieces such as “Who in their right minds would join the Student Union?” and “The SU needs a shake-up.” It has also reported on various stories that have had negative connotations for the SU, such as the SU advertising for zero-hours contracts.

The SU concluded its statement by emphasising that “care for trans students should be paramount right now” and that the SU “will continue to work with the LGBT+ Campaign to make this university safe for all its students.” It included a list of resources for trans students, which can be found at the end of this article.

When The Cambridge Tab asked the SU to elaborate on why it was felt releasing a statement critical of a student publication was necessary, it responded to us with the following: “We released our statement on Varsity’s coverage of transphobia in response to an article in the print edition entitled ‘Students protest Joyce talk’, which we became aware of on Friday morning. In previous years, we have issued corrections to student publications where we have felt reporting has been inaccurate.

“We believe that issuing a statement in this particular case was important, as Varsity both misrepresented the sabbatical officers and refused to recognise the LGBT+ Campaign President. Alongside this, Varsity’s coverage put trans students at risk by publishing photos of their faces, after explicitly being asked not to do this. Ultimately, we are committed to supporting and protecting trans students, and that includes holding others within our community to account.”

The SU LGBT+ campaign also said: “The Campaign stands in solidarity with the trans community of Cambridge. We feel your frustration and your exhaustion with ongoing so-called ‘debate’ around our identities and our rights. We would like to thank everyone who supported the protest. It was a cathartic and uplifting evening that allowed our community to come together in celebration of transness”.

The LGBT+ Campaign has created a form when people can give anonymous testimony if they have been negatively affected by transphobia in Cambridge. The form can be found here.

SU list of resources for trans students:

Image credits: Keira Quirk