A piece in yesterday’s Sunday Times:
Scholars at a transgender conference were asked to wear lanyards to show whether they felt able to cope with conversation
They were certainly not the conventional name badges that people sometimes wear at parties.
Academics attending a conference at a British university wore badges which followed a “traffic-light communication system” to ensure it was a “safe” space for transgender and other non-binary attendees.
If you chose a green badge, it meant: “I wish to speak with other delegates and welcome you to approach.” A yellow badge meant: “I will approach you if I wish to speak.” A red badge took an even more hostile approach to networking — “I do not wish to speak with other delegates.”
Delegates attending the one-day academic conference at Roehampton University in southwest London, entitled Thinking Beyond: Transversal Transfeminisms, could choose which coloured name lanyard they wanted to wear.
Scholars were allowed to change the colour of the badge they displayed throughout the day, depending on how emotionally strong they were feeling.
The one-day conference was advertised as a response to “a series of attacks against the experiences and identities of trans people” ranging from the “Trump administration’s aggressive policing of trans soldiers in the military, to rampant transphobia in UK feminist circles”.
Professors who attended the conference from other universities said they were astonished to be asked to wear the lanyards containing the coloured badges and to observe such restrictions.
“To have this kind of traffic-light system simply encourages fragility,” said Michael Biggs, associate professor of sociology at Oxford University, who was at the event and wore the green badge on top of the others to make a point. He said it was the first time he had seen such a system put in place at a conference.
“It seems as though this is something that may be used in therapy sessions with autistic people who cannot bear verbal contact. In an academic conference in a university — where freedom of speech is fundamental — it is really inappropriate. It suggests the normal discourse of intellectual life is somehow threatening to people’s safety. This is doing a disservice to the scholars themselves. Being challenged makes you smarter.”
His disquiet was echoed by Susan Matthews, an honorary research fellow at Roehampton, who also attended. She pointed out that the conference, which was relatively small, was also policed by a security guard. Matthews, however, praised the university for allowing the event to go ahead, albeit with “extraordinary precautions” and said some graduates still boycotted it.
University sources defended the use of the badges, claiming they had been used on other campuses. “Delegates were asked to wear the lanyards for safeguarding reasons,” said one source. “Trans issues are sensitive. Some people were worried about confrontation. It was felt important to make sure people felt safe and able to engage.”
The measures come after a series of clashes between LGBT students and academics. Earlier this year, Julie Bindel, a prominent feminist, claimed she was “lunged at” by a trans woman after an event at Edinburgh University.
Some feminists, who question the idea that people can self-identify as male or female, have also been threatened with being “no-platformed”, which involves being denied permission to speak on campus.
Ministers have repeatedly condemned the failure to respect the principles of academic freedom of speech in universities. Today’s students have been dismissed as “Generation Snowflake” by critics for their alleged over-sensitivity, a label that many in the age group find offensive and frustrating.
Roehampton University said: “We strongly condemn any form of discrimination and racism and have strict policies to promote tolerance among our community.
“We are committed to creating a working and learning environment that is truly inclusive, where people understand, appreciate and value the diversity of each individual and where practices make people feel valued and able to participate and achieve their full potential.”
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