New information has emerged which would appear to suggest that the issue of segregation at LSE is not only more entrenched than first assumed, but that the school itself has systematically and repeatedly failed to protect its vulnerable students.
A PhD student, who has since graduated, made a formal complaint whilst still a student over gender segregation as early as January 2015 to the school, but it appears as though no definitive action has been taken. The complaint was initially made to the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion office but the matter was later taken up specifically by Pro-Director for Teaching and Learning, Paul Kelly.
A series of email exchanges obtained by The Beaver show that student Chris Moos wrote to the EDI office on 13 January 2015 to officially complain over what he felt was repeated instances of gender segregation. After no reply was received, Chris sent a follow up email on 20 January 2015 and was informed by the EDI office two days later that the matter was being ‘investigated’ by Paul Kelly and Robin Hoggard. Writing directly to Paul Kelly on 22 January 2015, Chris Moos asked for a number of assurances; most notably that an inquiry be set up to establish the prevalence of gender segregation at LSE, that steps be taken to ensure further segregation did not occur, and that future society events were monitored in case of further segregation.
In his emails to senior school management, Chris Moos’ allegations of gender segregation were based on six Facebook events which he says explicitly referenced segregation. Given the amount of time that has elapsed, these events are no longer visible on Facebook and it is impossible to ascertain the veracity of these claims. However, two flyers for Islamic Society events which pre-dated Chris’ complaint – A Mount Snowdon Charity Climb in October 2014 and Freshers’ Fair 2014 – explicitly refer to segregation.
More troubling still, it would seem extremely difficult to argue that these events could be exempted under EHRC guidance either for religious or voluntary reasons. In the case of segregation for religious worship, the guidance notes that ‘Once such events or meetings go beyond religious worship or practice, equality law applies and the courts are likely to consider any gender segregation taking place to be unlawful’, which would imply significant difficulty in justifying the entirety of a mountain climb to be segregated – a similar criticism could be applied to ISOC’s recent annual dinner. Secondly, the guidance advises that any segregation is, ‘wholly and demonstrably voluntary, both at the booking stage and during the event’. It would likewise be extremely difficult to prove that this was the case for Freshers events, where many would-be attendees are only just arriving at the school and had no input into the organisation of such events.
In his response, Paul Kelly tacitly acknowledged there was a problem by noting that ‘…when the School learned of the events [which Chris complained about]…. officers of the School discussed the events with the organisers and drew their attention to the risk that the way the events were advertised may have contravened the guidance.’ However, Mr. Kelly did not specifically acknowledge the investigation that was mentioned by the EDI office, nor did he mention any further action that was either taken, or planned in the event of further instances where the EHRC guidance may have perceived to have been breached.
It may be reasonably assumed that the school’s decision to open a dialogue with ISOC over the nature of the way events were advertised was indicative of concern on School management’s part. Further, it could be reasonably assumed that this was a first, relatively uncontroversial step in ensuring that the School, SU, and students were complying with legal guidance. In any event, it appears that the School’s concern over any contravention of legislation quickly dissipated, as did its desire to escalate its attempts to ensure legislation would be followed. Since the complaints made by Chris Moos, in which LSE senior management took a first step in opening a dialogue with ISOC, there have been a number of occasions in which the advertisement of society events appears to clash with EHRC guidance. This is not to say that the events definitively did contravene legislation, but there certainly was a perception that this could’ve been the case; something which the School should have taken more seriously. Nevertheless, it is not clear to see whether the School saw fit to extend the action it took regarding Chris Moos’ complaints, or even to pro-actively address such issues at all.
In an email to its members on 15 February 2015, ISOC advertised a segregated event that was specifically social in nature, the ‘Mid Term Sister’s Social’. Whilst this event followed collective religious observance, which is legitimately segregated, the event itself was explicitly non-religious, consisting of a trip of to popular American diner, Tinsel Town. During Freshers Week 2015, the administration and organisation of events largely mirrored the previous year in relation to segregation, which in 2014 was the subject of a specific complaint.
The Beaver wrote to school management requesting information as to whether subsequent events were investigated or acted upon to which the press office responded with a statement which ignored this request. Whilst the LSE statement does refer to, ‘a number of occasions’ on which they have been in contact with the SU and/or societies, it is peculiar that they would refuse to definitively respond to a request for information in regards to specific events. It is not clear why senior figures at the school deemed some society events to be worthy of attention, whilst other events which appear to be almost identical in advertisement and organisation seem to have been apparently deliberately overlooked.
The School’s statement in full notes that, ‘LSESU and its societies are legally separate to the School and, as such, are responsible for following relevant policies and legal requirements. The EHRC guidance on gender segregation is generally regarded in the higher education sector as an authoritative statement of the relevant legislation. Since the creation of the EHRC policy in 2014, LSE staff have been in contact with the SU and societies on a number of occasions to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities under the law.’
The EHRC guidance which the LSE refers to as an ‘authoritative statement’ includes a passage which notes that ‘Universities have a duty to publish and keep up to date a Code of Practice which addresses the conduct of events at its premises and at those used by students’ unions and their societies’. At the time of printing, LSE’s code of practice which refers explicitly to gender segregation appears to consist of a 4 line document found on the LSE website which merely reinforces the point that the LSE has agreed to adopt EHRC guidance.
Whilst there is no dispute that LSESU and its societies are a legally independent entity to School, and as such are responsible for society events and the conduct of students, the EHRC guidance also specifically states that ‘Equality law applies to meetings or events on the premises of the university’ which should raise serious questions of the School to summarily absolve itself of all responsibility given that some events – most notably the promotion of Freshers Fairs, if not the activities themselves, take place exclusively and solely on LSE premises.
The LSE statement reiterates the position Paul Kelly took in his mail to Chris Moos, in which he advised the PhD candidate to contact the SU with his complaint as it was, in the school’s view, specifically the the SU’s remit. Whilst Chris Moos never followed up with a complaint to the SU; General Secretary Nona Buckley-Irvine has stated that as far as she was aware, the school never made her or the SU aware of Chris Moos complaint. Given that the school initially appeared to take Mr. Moos’ complaint seriously by investigating matters, and given that the EHRC guidance states that a University ‘remains legally obliged to take any available alternative reasonably practicable steps that would prevent the discrimination continuing.’, the school’s failure to communicate with the SU on such a serious issue does not seem justifiable.
Lastly, the EHRC guidance states in equivocal terms that ‘If the university only learnt of the compulsory gender segregation after the event, then it would need to take steps to ensure that it did not re-occur in the future, in order to avoid infringement of the Act’. In the first instance – following Chris Moos’ complaint – the School did not ascertain whether any gender segregation that took place was justifiable under the legitimate exemptions listed in EHRC guidance. Secondly, it is not clear whether the school repeated its first ‘step’ – communicating with specific societies – in specific instances in the future. Thirdly, given that communicating with specific societies appears not to have been sufficient in preventing segregation, it is not clear whether the School has taken any additional steps.
In this context, the most generous assessment that can be made of the School’s action – or lack of it – on segregated events is that it has been ineffectual. There has been a clear lack of transparency in the way that the school has handled complaints and investigated issues, and in particular the attempt to absolve itself of any blame by seemingly exporting all responsibility to the SU is questionable. It is for this reason that Chris Moos considers the school to be ‘in clear violation of the law’ as a result of the manner in which it has responded to his complaint. At this time, it is not clear if he intends to follow up on this claim with any additional action.