Monika Radojevic, MSc Development Studies
A student, who identifies as a white male, complained that SOAS as an institution, “has held events and produced material which directly portrays whiteness and maleness as negative traits”.
A two-year legal dispute between the former student and the SOAS SU continues to simmer as he launches yet another case, this time appealing the County Court dismissal.
The claimant, who has asked to remain anonymous, made a formal complaint to the SU in which he claimed he was the victim of discrimination due to not being allowed to attend the SOAS Women’s Network Caucus and the SOAS BME Caucus events in December 2016. The white male complained that SOAS, as an institution, “has held events and produced material which directly portrays whiteness and maleness as negative traits”, describing the experience as “profoundly humiliating and distressing to be refused service by my own student’s union on the basis of my race and gender”.
“SOAS, as an institution, ‘has held events and produced material which directly portrays whiteness and maleness as negative traits’ ”
After not receiving a response to his formal complaint from the sabbatical officers, the student opened a legal claim in January 2017 for “discriminatory denial of services based on his race and gender”. Receiving legal advice, he discontinued this claim and was in the process of addressing the issue via the Students’ Union’s complaints process, when the procedure came to an abrupt halt after he launched a second legal claim of denial of service in small claims court in March 2017, seeking £9000.
Under the Equality Act of 2010, Exceptions for Charities allows for specialised circumstances where specific groups can be lawfully treated differently, which the SU assert applied to the Women’s Caucus and BME Caucus. Acknowledging the legal ambiguity of his allegations, the student’s second denial of service claim alleged at no point had he received a response from the SU regarding his three formal complaints. The SU asserts that a response was given to the third formal complaint, alongside an apology for not responding to the previous two, and was in the process of formally responding when the second legal claim was made.
The student claimed the SU’s lack of response or investigation was a discriminatory denial of service, based on his race and gender, and an overall prejudiced attitude to white males by both SOAS and SU staff. He claimed £9000 for hurt feelings (£3000 per unanswered complaint), as well as legal costs, although the case was dismissed by the County Court.
The SU maintained a similar stance through the process. Peter Baran, the SU General Manager, responded that the SU had acted lawfully based on the positive action of “providing additional and bespoke services…to benefit a particular disadvantaged group”. However, the SU did acknowledge and apologise to the claimant for not immediately following the correct response procedures, accepting they did not initially handle the complaint effectively, although they do not accept any wrongdoing or financial liability for any claims of unlawful discrimination. Mr Baran added, “having spoken to the union officers running the events, the claimant did not attempt to attend either of these events and thus his claims for hurt feelings are somewhat insubstantial”.
The SOAS Spirit reached out to the student for his response to the story. After expressing disagreement with my understanding of the story, he provided this statement:
“Individual SOAS SU officers are free to hold the opinion that white, male students don’t deserve representation or advocacy. They are not free to discriminate in an official capacity, as they discriminated against me. The court struck out my case due to an administrative error, not on the basis of evidence, and I am actively appealing”.
Image Credits: SOAS Student’s Union