Is segregation on campuses becoming the norm?

A recent event at the University College London has highlighted how student Islamic groups around the country are segregating women and men in their events

by Rupert Sutton on 18 March 2013 10:21

Last week I was contacted by a number of students who raised concerns about planned segregation at an event featuring a man named Hamza Tzortzis at the University College London (UCL).

My organisation, Student Rights, published an opinion piece by a student present at the event which highlights the complicity of the university in enforcing such a policy, and the story has also made national news.

UCL’s attempt to claim that it only became aware of attempted segregation on Sunday is a disgraceful deflection, given that students had been writing to them to complain about this prior to event. What is more concerning however, is the portrayal of this as an isolated incident, when segregation on our campuses is actually far more common.

I was present at an event in October 2012, again featuring Tzortzis at UCL. The seating was split, with women at the back of the hall and men at the front.

During 2012, I wrote many times about how university society events were becoming segregated as a matter of course. They were even openly advertised in this manner, with a speech given by Dr Khalid Fikry at London Metropolitan University in June billed as “FULLY SEGREGATED!!!”

The same was true at London South Bank University in January of this year, where an event encouraging non-Muslims to attend was advertised as “100 Per Cent Segregated”.

Promotional material for November’s talk by Abu Usamah At-Thahabi at Brunel also declared “all our events are always segregated to the best of our ability”. The event drew mass criticism and a largescale protest was organised after Thahabi’s views were exposed by Student Rights.

It can also be said that this is not simply something done by rogue campus groups. Even the vast umbrella organisation, 'the Federation of Student Islamic Societies' is involved in this procedure.

Despite claiming in February 2012 that “sincere efforts, meanwhile, exist in raising female participation in student societies”, just three months earlier the organisation held an event advertised as including “Full Segregation”.

The fact that segregation is not mentioned in the promotional material of all events should not be taken mean that it does not happen at them either.

In November 2012 a student asked Kingston University Islamic Society on Facebook “are these[events] segregated?” and was cryptically told “please find more the event we created, and rest assured regarding anything else”.

To suggest that what happened at UCL last weekend is a one-off therefore ignores the consistent use of segregation by student Islamic societies across the country.

While this may be portrayed as voluntary by those who enforce it, the pressure put on female students to conform and obey these rules that encourage subjugation should not be underestimated.

One student who attended last Saturday highlighted this, saying "I regret not joining my male friends in openly opposing this violation of gender equality in public premises. However, I was genuinely fearful of the repercussions".

I would like to see universities coming clean about why they allow such practices in public spaces. Remember, students and the public pay for our universities and their resources. I for one do not want to be sponsoring segregation on campuses. Do you?

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