What would you do? Imagine that you are an administrator in a university, a student group has invited a radical speaker to address a public meeting  on campus and he says that he will not come unless the auditorium is segregated with white students sitting in one part of the hall and non-white students in another. Do you:

a)      Allow the meeting to proceed

b)      Ban the speaker from the campus

c)      Ban the student group from operating on campus.

Most of us would agree that in any university in the UK b) and c) would be the automatic answers. Thankfully segregation on the grounds of race is anathema in the UK today, especially in institutions of higher learning.

Yet Universities UK, the body proclaiming itself ‘The voice of UK Universities’ has issued guidelines to universities throughout the UK concerning external speakers which says that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as ‘both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.’

Why should one form of discrimination based on the colour of one’s skin be considered anathema whilst the equally repugnant discrimination on the grounds of one’s sex be approved? It appears that for UUK, and the National Union of Students who back this discrimination, it all depends on who is doing the discriminating.

UUK elaborate, they consider that universities should bear in mind that ‘concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system’ and that if ‘imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.’

Thus we find the bizarre argument that if a speaker is unable to speak before a audience where men and women sit together his right to freedom of speech demands discrimination against women in our institutions of higher learning.

Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal.

In effect UUK and the NUS are guilty of the racism of lower expectations. Non-Muslims are rightly expected to abide by certain standards and are punished if they do not. Last month members of the Stirling University hockey club were banned from representing the university after it was reported that they had sung bawdy songs on a bus.

Muslim students, however, are not expected to live up to the same high standards as other students. Instead their religious prejudices are institutionalised by authorities and representative bodies afraid of offending a perceived victim group.

Student Rights, a student equality group,  carried out research which found that radical Islamist preachers spoke at 180 events at universities between March 2012 and March 2013. Segregated seating for men and women was promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions. They came to the conclusion that preaching by extremists and discrimination through segregation at student events has become a ‘widespread’ trend at many UK universities.

Yesterday, international Human Rights Day, a demonstration was held outside the headquarters of UUK. Only a hundred or so people attended. Perhaps all the concerned right on liberals and anti-fascist campaigners were watching the Mandela memorial service and congratulating themselves on their progressive credentials.



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