Backlash after Oxford college bans ‘harmful’ Christian group from freshers’ fair
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Backlash after Oxford college bans ‘harmful’ Christian group from freshers’ fair

Oxford University’s Balliol College has banned its Christian union from its Freshers’ Fair on the grounds that it would be “alienating” for students of other religions, and constitute a “micro-aggression.”

According to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell, the Christian Union (CU) was told the college’s student body, the JCR, wanted the fair to be a “secular space.”

The fair’s organiser argued Christianity’s historic use as “an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism” meant that students might feel “unwelcome” in their new college if the CU had a stall.

After complaints from the religious group, a compromise was met in which permission for a single multi-faith stall was granted, but only on the condition that it had no representative of any society manning it. This meant that no member of any religious society was able to exhibit at the fair or speak to freshers.

The college’s decision was met with anger at Balliol, where the student body has unanimously passed a motion accusing the JCR of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom.”

In an initial email exchange with the CU, Balliol’s JCR vice-president Freddy Potts expressed concern that some students wouldn’t feel comfortable with the inclusion of the Christian stand given Oxford’s reputation for “racism and lack of diversity.”

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Students hang out on the lawn outside Oxford University’s Balliol College. Source: Shutterstock

“Many students, especially students of colour and of other faiths, may already feel alienated and vulnerable in Oxford, a university with a reputation for racism and lack of diversity, and a city with barely any appropriate places of worship for non-Christians,” he said.

“Hopefully, as people of faith, you may be able to empathise with this, and we ask you to consider from a place of compassion the potential harm to those freshers who are already severely and harmfully disadvantaged.”

In a Facebook post, JCR president Hubert Au said the decision to have a multi-faith stall rather than a specific CU stall, was reached “in light of both concerns raised by members [of the Welfare sub committee] and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term, which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located”, the Cherwell reported.

“We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair,” he said.

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