First Indian female president of Oxford University students’ union QUITS

The first Indian female president of Oxford University’s students’ union has been forced to step down after ‘racist’ and ‘insensitive’ social media posts from her past were unearthed just days after her election.

Rashmi Samant – who campaigned to ‘decolonise’ the Oxford syllabus and remove ‘imperialist’ statues – last night announced she is withdrawing as President-Elect of the union following criticism of several online posts dating as far back as 2017, for which she has since apologised.

The student, from Karnataka in South-West India, was accused of racism after she captioned a photo of herself in Malaysia with the words ‘Ching Chang’ and made a play on words about the Holocaust while at the memorial in Berlin. 

Ms Samant previously claimed that the phrase ‘Ching Chang’ translates from Mandarin to ‘eat the plants’ – an inside joke about her vegetarianism – but Mandarin speakers said the term is a reverse Google Translation not used by native speakers. 

She was accused of being ‘insensitive’ by Jewish students after uploading a photo to Instagram at the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin which read: ‘The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of the past atrocities and deeds’. 

The Indian student was also accused of transphobia after saying women are not transwomen in an Instagram post, and courted controversy by comparing British imperialist Cecil Rhodes to Hitler in a Student Union debate. 

Though Ms Samant issued a grovelling apology for the posts, she resigned after coming under pressure from the Oxford Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality and the LGBTQ+ Campaign. She also appears to have since deleted both her Facebook and Instagram accounts.   

Today she was defended by the Free Speech Union, whose general secretary Toby Young said it was ‘disappointed’ to see Ms Samant resign from her post and said her apology ‘should have been enough’. 

It is the latest twist in a series of free speech rows to engulf Oxford, including colleges and departments forcing students and staff to have ‘unconscious bias training’ to root out hidden racist behaviour. 

Rashmi Samant (pictured) last night announced she is withdrawing as President-Elect of the Oxford Student Union after apologising for several widely criticised social media posts

Rashmi Samant (pictured) last night announced she is withdrawing as President-Elect of the Oxford Student Union after apologising for several widely criticised social media posts

Rashmi Samant (pictured) last night announced she is withdrawing as President-Elect of the Oxford Student Union after apologising for several widely criticised social media posts

What did Rashmi Samant say?

‘Holocaust ‘pun”: In one post, Rashmi Samant was seen posing at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial in June 2017.

The caption reportedly read: ‘The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of the past atrocities and deeds. Reflecting on it gives us the power to live with the past vouching for a better future. #holocaustMemorial #uniqueArchitecture’.    

The comment was perceived as a ‘pun’ on the Holocaust, an atrocity during which millions of Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis.

After being approached by a concerned student, Ms Samant reportedly said she ‘completely condemns’ the Holocaust and insisted she was ‘not being insensitive.’ 

‘Ching Chang’: Following a post from Malaysia in which she used the caption ‘Ching Chang’, one Chinese student told Cherwell it was ‘awful’ that Ms Samant appeared to ‘show no remorse for the use of a phrase which has been used to make fun of Chinese people for our whole lives.’ 

Ms Samant previously claimed that the phrase ‘Ching Chang’ translates from Mandarin to ‘eat the plants,’ which was an inside joke between herself and her friends due to her vegetarianism. 

However, Mandarin speakers claim that ‘ching’ cannot be written in pinyin and that this translation is a reverse Google Translation of the phrase, not a term used by an authentic native speaker.

‘Women vs transwomen’: In an Instagram post, she used the words ‘women’ and ‘transwomen’ separately. This led to claims of transphobia, for which she subsequently apologised.

 

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In an open letter published by student newspaper Cherwell, Ms Samant apologised to ‘every student who has been hurt by my actions or words and seek a chance to gain your trust in me again’.

She added: ‘I fully acknowledge my shortcomings over the years and the past few days in my capacity as President-elect. 

‘I come to you with an apology and a willingness to learn. I earnestly seek your help in making amends for my mistakes.’ 

Despite her apology, Ms Samant yesterday announced on Facebook that she had decided to step down as President-Elect.

‘In light of the recent events surrounding my election to the Presidency of the Oxford SU, I believe it is best for me to step down from the role. It has been an honour to be your President-Elect,’ she revealed.

Graduate student Ms Samant became the first female Indian President of the Oxford University Student Union last week following their biggest-ever turnout for voting.  

Indian MP Shobha Karandlaje hailed Ms Samant’s landmark win on social media, describing her success as a ‘moment of pride for [the] whole [of] Udupi!’  

The postgraduate student had studied at the Manipal Institute of Technology in Karnataka before accepting a postgraduate place at Oxford University. 

Ms Samant, who went to school in Manipal and Udupi, is the daughter of Vathsala Samant, a homemaker, and businessman Dinesh Samant, the Times of India reported.

According to Oxford University, Ms Samant received 1,966 of the 3,708 votes cast for SU President – which is more than all three of her opponents combined.

But Ms Samant was thrust into controversy after social media posts recently emerged which saw her branded ‘insensitive’ and ‘racist’. 

In one, she was seen posing at the Berlin Holocaust Memorial in June 2017. The caption reportedly read: ‘The memorial *CASTS* a *HOLLOW* dream of the past atrocities and deeds. Reflecting on it gives us the power to live with the past vouching for a better future. #holocaustMemorial #uniqueArchitecture’.    

The comment was perceived as a ‘pun’ on the Holocaust, an atrocity during which millions of Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis.

One student, known as Ethan, chose to message Ms Samant explaining why her Holocaust post was offensive. 

In messages seen by Cherwell, Ms Samant responded: ‘I completely condemn the Holocaust in that caption and am not being insensitive. It is upto [sic] the interpreter. I am by the end of the day [sic] a non-native English student. I wouldn’t even dare to be insensitive about something like that’. 

When told that her actions were perceived as insensitive, she replied: ‘I don’t agree with you there.’ 

Ethan told Cherwell: ‘The main problem I have with her responses is that she focused her election slate around inclusion and acceptance, but when she was called out for ignorance, she has made no effort to recognise her mistakes’.  

Following a post from Malaysia in which she used the caption ‘Ching Chang’, one Chinese student told Cherwell it was ‘awful’ that Ms Samant appeared to ‘show no remorse for the use of a phrase which has been used to make fun of Chinese people for our whole lives.’   

Her manifesto (pictured)  included plans to 'tackle institutional homophobia and transphobia, first through conducting a university-wide consultation with the LGBTQ+ community'

Her manifesto (pictured)  included plans to 'tackle institutional homophobia and transphobia, first through conducting a university-wide consultation with the LGBTQ+ community'

Her manifesto (pictured)  included plans to ‘tackle institutional homophobia and transphobia, first through conducting a university-wide consultation with the LGBTQ+ community’

Indian MP Shobha Karandlaje hailed Ms Samant's landmark win on social media, describing her success as a 'moment of pride for [the] whole [of] Udupi!'

Indian MP Shobha Karandlaje hailed Ms Samant's landmark win on social media, describing her success as a 'moment of pride for [the] whole [of] Udupi!'

Indian MP Shobha Karandlaje hailed Ms Samant’s landmark win on social media, describing her success as a ‘moment of pride for [the] whole [of] Udupi!’

Oxford SU President-Elect steps down: Who is Rashmi Samant?

Oxford student Rashmi Samant

Oxford student Rashmi Samant

Oxford student Rashmi Samant

Rashmi Samant was last week elected as the first Indian female president of the Oxford University Student Union after its biggest-ever voter turnout.

The postgraduate is studying for an MSc in Energy Systems at Linacre College.

She previously attended the Manipal Institute of Technology in Karnataka before accepting a postgraduate place at Oxford University.

Ms Samant, who went to school in Manipal and Udupi in southwest India, is the daughter of Vathsala and Dinesh Samant, a businessman from Parkala and a homemaker. 

The student, who speaks several languages, has previously held the position of Women’s Representative at Linacre College.

She was also on the Student Council in India as a Sabbatical Officer.  

Her course ends this year but her father Mr Samant said she was expecting to serve a year in the Students Union post before returning to India next year. 

In an interview with the Oxford Student ahead of her win, Ms Samant had described her priorities as ‘decolonisation and inclusivity’, alongside introducing ‘Covid interventions for all’ and improving access to mental health resources.

The MSc Energy Systems student, who moved to the UK from India in October, had planned to lobby the University to ‘remove all statues proven to be imperialist’, and ‘conduct a comprehensive consultation on decolonisation of syllabi.’

Her manifesto also included plans to ‘tackle institutional homophobia and transphobia, first through conducting a university-wide consultation with the LGBTQ+ community.’

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Ms Samant has also since apologised for the post which separated ‘women’ and ‘transwomen’.

The Free Speech Union today said it was ‘disappointed’ to see Ms Samant resign from her post, adding: ‘She has apologised for the things she said and that should have been enough.’

A spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘Publicly shaming young people and hounding them from the public square just because they’ve said something a bit daft on social media will deter all but the most boring to get involved in student politics. 

‘I hope Rashmi runs for office again soon.’

Free speech campaigner Calvin Robinson added: ‘Whilst we must do all we can do clamp down on racism where it still exists, we must also not lose perspective and context should always be considered. 

‘Rashmi’s comments were entirely inappropriate, there’s no doubt about that, but she has since apologised. It is now our job to forgive her and move on.

‘We need to get to a point where we can accept someone for the person they are today, without trudging through their social media history from years ago in order to find evidence to discredit them. 

‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Cancel culture is unforgive and unhelpful; it’s a misguided approach at social justice. 

‘We’d do far better to remember the British value – the Christian value – of forgiveness.’

It comes after Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced a series of measures aimed to protect free speech.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Williamson warned against the ‘chilling effect’ of ‘unacceptable silencing and censoring’ on university campuses.     

In an interview with the Oxford Student ahead of her win, Ms Samant had described her priorities as ‘decolonisation and inclusivity’, alongside introducing ‘Covid interventions for all’ and improving access to mental health resources.

The MSc Energy Systems student, who moved to the UK from India in October, had planned to lobby the University to ‘remove all statues proven to be imperialist’, and ‘conduct a comprehensive consultation on decolonisation of syllabi.’

Her manifesto also included plans to ‘tackle institutional homophobia and transphobia, first through conducting a university-wide consultation with the LGBTQ+ community.’

It read: ‘Being a BAME woman from a former British colony, Rashmi is empathetic towards the struggles faced by marginalised groups.’  

The current Sabbatical Officers of the Student Union yesterday released a statement in the wake of the controversy. 

They said: ‘As your elected representatives and in recognition of the Office we hold, we sincerely apologise for the hurt and discomfort caused by the actions of the President-elect.

‘Oxford SU has a no tolerance policy towards discrimination. Racism, transphobia, and antisemitism have no place in our organisation.’ 

It is understood a by-election will now be held to elect a new SU President.  

Ms Samant, Oxford University and the Oxford University Student Union have been contacted for comment. 

It is the latest twist in a series of free speech rows at Oxford, with one professor this week accusing college institutions of ‘dismal failure’  over freedom of speech – and claimed they cynically adopted diversity policies as a ‘badge’ for marketing.

It is understood a by-election will now be held to elect a new SU President. Pictured: Oxford University Student Union

It is understood a by-election will now be held to elect a new SU President. Pictured: Oxford University Student Union

It is understood a by-election will now be held to elect a new SU President. Pictured: Oxford University Student Union

Margaret Thatcher’s old Oxford college Somerville makes all students take an ‘unconscious bias’ test… and warns students they must get 100pc mark 

Every student at Margaret Thatcher’s old Oxford college was ordered to take a course in ‘unconscious bias’ to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, principal of Somerville College, instructed students to complete the online class by this Friday, and told them they must ‘achieve a mark of 100 per cent’ in a final test.

In her message the Labour peer, 65, who served in Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet, also claimed there was ‘irrefutable evidence’ that injustices in society were being fanned by ‘individual unconscious biases that many or all of us have’.

Somerville College, Oxford, (pictured) told all students they must complete an 'unconscious bias' course to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’

Somerville College, Oxford, (pictured) told all students they must complete an 'unconscious bias' course to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’

Somerville College, Oxford, (pictured) told all students they must complete an ‘unconscious bias’ course to expose innate ‘racism, homophobia, transphobia and disability discrimination’

Her claims were in conflict with the Government’s belief that trendy ‘unconscious bias’ training, which is aimed at rooting out unintentional discrimination, ‘does not achieve its intended aims’ and should be phased out of use in the public sector. Other research suggests it could even make such problems worse.

During the test used by Somerville College, seen by the Daily Mail, students must admit that they are ‘susceptible to bias’ and need to ‘accept responsibility for monitoring our own behaviours’.

They are also forced to admit to suffering from the bizarrely-named ‘mini-me syndrome’, because they ‘automatically favour’ people like themselves.

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Professor Selina Todd, 47, spoke as the government announced plans for a ‘free speech champion’ to ensure universities in England do not stifle it.

But academic Prof Todd, who teaches modern history at Oxford, questioned whether it would have any effect given recent events.

The professor – who was no-platformed herself after lobbying by trans activists over her views on gender- said universities saying they uphold free speech was incompatible with some diversity policies they had adopted.

She had to have a security guard at lectures when she was threatened by trans rights campaigners.

Prof Todd said: ‘I have at my institution a very good freedom of debate policy but it completely conflicts with our diversity policies because lobby groups like Stonewall actually pressurise institutions to write policies that say you cannot have debate on certain issues with the alleged claim being that by people like me articulating my view that sex is biological, it’s not assigned at birth, that I am doing literal harm to trans people in that case and that’s just not right.  

‘Universities need to realise that they cannot on one hand have policies like that, which they may adopt quite cynically because they want the badge of Stonewall champion because in a marketplace they are diverse and liberal and all the rest of it, they cannot on the one hand uphold that and then claim they are upholding freedom of debate because I’m an example they are not doing that.

‘I am very prominent, I’m in a permanent position, I’m a professor, but the amount of support I’ve had from my institution has been laughable – they have never made a public statement in my defence.

‘I oppose the way the offence of hate speech being applied to other groups in the kind of liberal way that student unions and many other university staff members seek to do it and very often university policies uphold this,’ she added to Radio 4.

It came as the Education Secretary warned against a ‘chilling effect’ of ‘unacceptable silencing and censoring’ on university campuses as he unveiled tougher measures to protect free speech.

Gavin Williamson announced a series of proposals to strengthen academic freedom at universities in England, including the appointment of a ‘free speech champion’ who will investigate potential infringements, such as no-platforming speakers or dismissal of academics.

A new free speech condition would be placed on universities for them to be registered in England and access public funding, and the Office for Students (OfS) regulator would have the power to impose fines on institutions if they breached the condition.

Individuals would be able to seek compensation through the courts if they suffered loss from a breach of the free speech duties – such as being expelled, dismissed or demoted – under a new legal measure.

Mr Williamson said: ‘Free speech underpins our democratic society and our universities have a long and proud history of being places where students and academics can express themselves freely, challenge views and cultivate an open mind.

‘But I am deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring. That is why we must strengthen free speech in higher education, by bolstering the existing legal duties and ensuring strong, robust action is taken if these are breached.’

Under the plans, universities would be legally required to actively promote free speech.

Gavin Williamson announced a series of proposals to strengthen academic freedom

Gavin Williamson announced a series of proposals to strengthen academic freedom

Gavin Williamson announced a series of proposals to strengthen academic freedom

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was snubbed by Oxford University students last year

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was snubbed by Oxford University students last year

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was snubbed by Oxford University students last year

No-platforming figures

Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd was snubbed by Oxford University students over her links to the Windrush scandal.

Miss Rudd, who was Home Secretary when the scandal broke in 2018, had planned to deliver a speech encouraging young women to get involved in politics before International Women’s Day on Sunday.

But she arrived last night to an empty hall after Felicity Graham, president of an Oxford student society supporting the work of UN Women UK, which organised the event, was forced to cancel amid severe criticism from fellow members and students.

Nigel Farage has also previously hit out at the President of the Cambridge Union for saying he wouldn’t be trusted to speak on his own, but could be considered as ‘part of a panel’ on Brexit.

Union President Abdullah Shah said in 2019 he hasdtaken an approach to ‘no-platforming’ some speakers who ‘say controversial things for the sake of it’, adding he would not invite Nigel Farage to speak on a ‘solo platform’ but might be included in group panel discussions on Brexit.

Farage said the move demonstrated how students are not being allowed to ‘make up their minds’ on social, economic and political issues. 

In September Caroline Farrow, a Catholic journalist and member of the Free Speech Union, was no-platformed by the University of Exeter Debating Society.

She was due to speak in a debate on whether prostitution should be legalised, but she was notified she had been disinvited because of her religious beliefs on a range of LGBT issues. 

She was later reinvited to speak. 

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The Education Secretary would appoint a ‘free speech and academic freedom champion’ to the OfS board and they would be able to recommend the watchdog imposes fines on universities.

The Department for Education said the next steps for legislation will be set out in due course. 

In December, the University of Cambridge announced that its proposed statement on free speech would no longer require staff and students to be ‘respectful’ of differing views following an intervention from academics who said calling for respect could undermine academic freedom.

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It is extraordinary that in the midst of a global pandemic the Government appears more interested in fighting phantom threats to free speech than taking action to contain the real and present danger which the virus poses to staff and students.

‘In reality the biggest threats to academic freedom and free speech come not from staff and students, or from so-called ‘cancel culture’, but from ministers’ own attempts to police what can and cannot be said on campus, and a failure to get to grips with the endemic job insecurity and managerialist approaches which mean academics are less able to speak truth to power.’

Hillary Gyebi-Ababio, vice president for higher education at the National Union of Students (NUS), said: ‘Students’ unions are committed to freedom of expression and are the very home of rigorous debate and new ideas.

‘There is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus, and students’ unions are constantly taking positive steps to help facilitate the thousands of events that take place each year.’

She added: ‘We recognise this announcement as an opportunity for us to prove once and for all that there is not an extensive problem with freedom of expression across higher education.’

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: ‘Free speech and academic freedom are essential to teaching and research. 

‘Universities and colleges have legal duties to protect both free speech and academic freedom, and their compliance with these responsibilities forms an important part of their conditions of registration with the OfS.

‘We will ensure that the changes that result from today’s proposals reinforce these responsibilities and embed the widest definition of free speech within the law.’ 

But Prof Todd said she believed the initiative would have a limited effect.

She added: ‘I am not so sure about a free speech champion, I think these kind of tsars and champions tend to go nowhere and it can end up being a bit of a blunt instrument. But I am glad that they have acted.

‘Universities do have a legal right to uphold freedom of debate and they’ve dismally failed to do so in recent years and things have got a lot worse for academics and for students, many of whom get in touch with me anonymously to say how frightened they are to speak out.

‘One of the things I’m very pleased about in today’s white paper is that the government has set out its intention to extend the obligation to uphold freedom to debate to student unions as well as universities. 

‘But more action is needed because as I say universities have had this legal obligation for a long time since the 1980s and in my experience we have a culture of no debate which our employers are just no willing to challenge.’ 

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