Worcester College hosted an event with a speaker linked to ‘conversion therapy’

The college has admitted this was a ‘serious failure on their part’ and has apologised ‘unreservedly’

CW: Discussions of homophobia, Islamophobia, and antisemitism

An Oxford college has come under fire for hosting a speaker linked to “conversion therapy”.

Mike Davidson, who calls for the acceptance of “professional assistance” to “leave behind unwanted homosexual practices”, spoke at Worcester College earlier this month as part of Wilberforce Academy’s conference, designed to “equip the next generation of Christian leaders in public life”.

Students who found out about the event condemned the material which they felt “is hateful and invalidating,” while a Co-Chair of the SU LGBTQ+ campaign stated they were “truly sorry that this has been one of your first impressions of the Oxford world.”

Worcester College has acknowledged “that this was a serious failure that has caused significant distress”, and has agreed to use the profit from the conference for equality, diversity and inclusivity initiatives. This is alongside a review of their booking process.

Wilberforce Academy has said the situation is an example of “cancel culture” and is “seeking urgent clarification” as to why Worcester College has apologised for the event taking place.

The Wilberforce Academy event took place at the college from the 6th-11th September 2021. The students who discovered the leaflet were on the Opportunity Oxford programme, a programme run by the university for first year students from under-represented backgrounds.

Wilberforce Academy Leaflet

Wilberforce Academy Leaflet

Mike Davidson, CEO of Core Issues Trust and X-Out Loud, was one of the speakers at the conference. He has previously said he “takes people seriously who say they want to move away from homosexual practices and feelings”.

He says he does this through exploring past experiences to find out more about unwanted “same-sex attraction”, so “we replace those feelings”. At the conference he spoke at an event called: “LGBT and Change”.

Mike Davidson’s group also publicises their dissatisfaction with the “encroaching politico-religious identity of Islam”, with a focus on trying to “understand how to respond to these doctrines”. Many students commented this language was inflammatory, particularly taking into account one session at the conference was titled: “The nature of Islam”.

After hearing about the event, a group of students sent an email to Worcester’s JCR President, LGBTQ+ Representative, and Ethnic and Religious Minorities Representative.

Many of us come to uni hoping to be allowed to be ourselves and know we can trust our new community and home,” the email read. “But how are we expected to place our trust in somewhere that, if it weren’t for a leaflet being left behind at breakfast, would have left us unaware that they had hosted a group that has consistently aimed to persecute and strip us of our rights for our sexuality, gender and or religion?”

A Co-Chair of the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign replied: “We stand in full solidarity with you and will do our best to take the necessary action to prevent this from being an issue again in the future.

“We were totally unaware this was happening and are extremely upset to hear that Worcester has hosted individuals propagating such a harmful rhetoric, and as you say, seemingly tried to do so without drawing attention to the fact it was happening.

“We agree that it is alarming that an organisation with such a poor history across the university should continue to be given a platform, and are keen to prevent this from being the case in the future.”

In later correspondence, the JCR President updated students that the Provost immediately investigated the concern after receiving an email from the JCR President.

It was suggested by the Provost that Wilberforce Academy had presented themselves as a “genuine religious conference”, with a staff member taking the booking in good faith.

According to the JCR President, it was confirmed “he would never wish to do business with organisations whose values and policies conflict with those of Worcester College”.

The JCR President pushed for a meeting with the Provost, as well as wanting the revenue from the conference to be donated to charity (echoed by the students who originally raised concern about the conference, and supported by the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign Co-Chair), as well as a vetting procedure for booking conferences with this public to students to prevent something similar occurring again.

A spokesperson for Worcester College said: “We deeply regret the distress caused to students, staff and other members of the college community by the presence of the Wilberforce Academy conference.

“The college was not aware of the speaker list or programme content in advance. The booking was taken in good faith, but it is clear that our procedures did not work as they should. We have begun an urgent review to ensure that this does not happen again.

“We have agreed with the JCR Committee that the profit from the conference will be set aside to fund dedicated equality, diversity and inclusivity initiatives. We are working with students and other members of the college community to identify the most appropriate projects.

“We acknowledge that this was a serious failure that has caused significant distress, and we apologise unreservedly to all those who have been affected.”

Worcester JCR Committee told The Oxford Tab: “We appreciate how promptly the college took action, to resolve their oversight in hosting the Wilberforce Academy.

“We were equally shocked and disappointed to hear about the conference, and we would like to thank the freshers who brought it to our attention and voiced their worries. We would like to encourage all students not to hesitate to contact us if something in college concerns them.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern (the organisation that runs Wilberforce Academy) comments: “It seems that cancel culture has once again demonstrated the power of its grip in one of our top universities, fuelled by a small group of activists who won’t tolerate any view that departs from their own narrow ideology and who will resort to tactics of misrepresentation and sweeping allegations to get their way, seemingly frightening nearly everyone into submission.

“That a college now led by someone who has so often claimed to be a defender of freedom of expression in higher education is rumoured to have capitulated to this aggressive movement is even more concerning. We very much enjoyed our week at the college, were very warmly welcomed, including by the Provost, received many compliments from the staff and were not aware of any complaints or concerns being raised with us at the time.

“Yet now we hear it alleged that the college has ‘apologised’ for hosting us! We will be seeking urgent clarification. Whatever happens, we will continue to speak of Jesus Christ who was himself an ‘outsider’ and by his words and actions demonstrated his commitment to reaching the marginalised, excluded and vulnerable so that they could discover true hope and everlasting love through him, even sacrificing his own life to do so. ”

Wilberforce Academy were last hosted in Oxford at Wolfson College in 2019, with Trinity, Exeter and Jesus all having hosted the group before.

The Oxford Student Union, SU LGBTQ+ Campaign, OULGBTQ+ Soc, ISOC, Mike Davidson and Core Issues were all contacted for comment. Allegations of homophobia and Islamophobia were put to Core Issues.

If you were impacted by this story, you can seek welfare support from OULGBTQ+ Soc by contacting [email protected] and [email protected].

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