Oxford Union president resigns over treatment of blind student

Brendan McGrath faced pressure to step down after he brought a complaint of violent misconduct against Ebenezer Azamati who was forcibly removed from a debate

OXFORD UNION RESIGNATION: File photo of a debate at the Oxford Union

THE PRESIDENT of the Oxford Union has resigned over his response to the treatment of a blind student who was “dragged by his feet” from a debate by union staff.

Brendan McGrath faced calls to step down from his position after he initially alleged that Ebenezer Azamati, a blind postgraduate international relations student from Ghana, had acted violently towards staff.

Azamati, who had returned to a seat he reserved before the debate began before he was confronted by security staff on October 17, the complaint was later withdrawn.

Video footage showed security staff attempting to physically remove Azamati from his seat against his will. One witness said that the student was “dragged off the bench by his feet”.

In a letter published on Facebook, McGrath apologised for what he termed his shortcomings and mistakes.

He wrote: “Fundamentally, it is the president’s job to ensure that every member feels welcome at the Oxford Union. This is a goal I have manifestly failed to reach. For all of my shortcomings and all of my mistakes, I apologise profusely and unqualifiedly.”

He added that managing the response to the incident involving Azamati was “the most difficult thing I’ve ever been charged with”.

McGrath has called for a full, public and independent review of the union’s policies in relation to disability to be carried out by the Disability Advisory Service; a review of the security system and regular equalities training to foster respect and inclusion.

Please see the below letter from the President to the Oxford Union's Standing Committee.

Posted by The Oxford Union on Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Since the incident was brought to its attention, the Oxford University Africa Society has rallied around Azamati, organising a petition and protest, demanding he receives justice and calling for McGrath’s resignation, stating he was unfit to be president.

“The manner in which Brendan McGrath and the union have handled this matter is inhumane, not least given the dignity of an individual at stake. AfriSoc is deeply concerned by the physical, emotional and psychological trauma Mr Azamati has had to endure in the past few weeks due to reckless leadership on display at the Oxford Union,” the society said in a statement.

Oxford University has been criticised for not taking action or issuing a public response to the incident and how it was dealt with sooner.

In a statement, it said: “We share the widespread outrage regarding the unacceptable treatment of Ebenezer Azamati, a member of our university community, at the Oxford Union. Ebenezer’s college and the university are working to fully support him.

“The union is an entirely independent club not governed by the university, but this student’s treatment goes against our culture of inclusivity and tolerance – we are pressing the union for answers on how they plan to remedy the issue and ensure this does not happen in future.”

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