Your article demonstrates the immense risk that universities or other institutions take in adjudicating on allegations of behaviour meeting a criminal threshold (“Students accused in university rape hearings call in lawyers”, News). Universities have no adequate locus in which to judge criminal matters, nor the skills or necessary legal powers to investigate them. Of course, with the criminal justice system failing so comprehensively to deal with such offences, it is entirely understandable why victims would prefer the seemingly simpler route of an internal investigation.
But if a university “convicts” a student and expels them for something that constitutes a serious criminal assault, then in our information age they could effectively blight the individual’s entire life and career prospects. Small wonder that accused students and their families wish to involve barristers. If victims and witnesses are not provided with equivalent support, it is an unfair process.
Whatever the outcome, with such high stakes there is a material likelihood of civil litigation following the university’s adjudication – either between the parties, or between any of them and the university. The solution has to be an overhaul of the criminal justice system, not private organisations taking it on themselves to operate private “courts”.
By George, I’m angry
George Osborne was the one who started the rot in 2010 and we’re still feeling it 13 years later (“If only Ed had the balls to ditch the podcast bantz and take George Osborne to task”, Comment). It seems that Ed Balls has brushed this under the carpet for his own interests. Has he no principles? How can Balls call himself a Labour man when he attended Osborne’s wedding and now appears to be bezzie mates with that ex-chancellor? It makes my blood boil.
Trans issues: we need help
As a secondary school teacher and a mother of three children aged 12, 10 and eight, I am extremely concerned about the ever-growing and increasingly dangerous presence of transgender theory in our schools (“Teachers need guidance to resolve issues of gender identity in the classroom”, Sonia Sodha, Comment).
In the past year I have been a supply teacher in a number of secondary schools in Buckinghamshire, and I am now a part-time French teacher, and the lack of guidance on transgender issues is becoming increasingly worrying. Schools seem to be taking matters into their own hands, without knowledge, due consideration or even caution, when it comes to children claiming to be suffering from gender distress.
From what I can glean, this is most often done through a change of name on the register, or, in the case of a five-year-old in one school I know, through the change of uniform from shorts and a T-shirt to a dress. No mention has been made of this to parents in the school, but parents on the playground seem to believe it to be “wonderful to support the child” in this way. I however, feel shocked at the naivety and speed of the decision, as if it bore no consequences for the child or his peers.
We need the government to provide clear and evidence-based guidance for parents and teachers alike, which gives all children the best chance to overcome, rather than succumb to, gender distress.
Respect where respect is due
I was surprised to see the review of my book The Psychosis of Whiteness, by Afua Hirsch, with the subheading opining that the work is “marred by a careless disrespect for black female scholars” (Books, New Review). The book would not have been possible without the work of Black female scholars including Carol Anderson, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Toni Morrison, Minnijean Brown-Trickey, Guilaine Kinouani and many more. I also shouted out excellent work like Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s Race for Profit. We are fortunate to be in a time where we can cite numerous Black female writers; some of this work is valuable, some useless and some dangerous.
Hirsch took issue with my critique of the “self-help for Whiteness literature”, which dismisses the genre that suggests among other things that journaling, diversity training and interracial relationships are routes to combating White supremacy. This did include a sharp-tongued critique of several Black female (but not exclusively, so) writers. But it was part of a chapter that applied the same tone for all comers, including Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X Kendi, and a book that calls out people like Obama, Mandela and rappers like L’il Wayne. Hirsch also quotes my favourite scholar, Malcolm X – “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman” – to suggest I take more care.
But beyond the famous soundbite, that is actually Malcolm at his most misogynistic. He goes on to argue that we should “protect our women” and that if Black men are being lynched for looking at White women, Black men should bring the same energy. It is deeply paternalistic to suggest that Black female thinkers need extra care from criticism. I happen to believe that Black women are fully able to take the shots and fire right back.
Safe routes for asylum
There is one thing missing from Labour’s revised policy on asylum: reopening safe legal routes to access the UK (“After years of cruel UK policies on asylum, Labour offers a credible solution”, Editorial). Everyone agrees on the need to put the people smugglers out of business. Does anyone seriously imagine that asylum seekers would hand over their life savings for the chance to cross the busiest shipping lane in the world in an unsafe small boat if they had access to safe legal routes? The real difference between Labour and the Tories is that the Tories’ unspoken policy is to deter all asylum seekers, with the honourable exception of those from Ukraine. The scheme for refugees from Ukraine should be applied across the board.
Ageism is bad for your health
Regarding Martha Gill’s article, “FOGO, our fear of growing old, is sweeping the land” (Comment): in addition to the reasons cited for eliminating ageism is the growing body of scientific evidence on the impact of the attitudes we hold towards ageing on our own health and wellbeing in later life. Research in the United States has shown that individuals with positive attitudes towards their ageing as younger adults live on average more than seven years longer than those with negative attitudes about self-ageing. Other studies demonstrate the detrimental effects of ageist stereotypes developed in younger age on physical and cognitive functioning and mental well-being in older age. These studies rigorously take into account other factors like socioeconomic status that could offer alternative explanations for these outcomes.
Given the recognised impact, for example, of idealised body images on social media on the mental wellbeing of young people, as a society we should seriously consider what the long-term effects of ageist stereotypes are on our health and wellbeing. Ageism is a public health issue that will only grow in importance as populations age.
Prof Catherine Hennessy
Crieff, Perth and Kinross
High street, low satisfaction
Yesterday my wife and I went to John Lewis to choose an Apple laptop (“We shed crocodile tears over our high streets then click online and finish them off”, Comment). To our surprise, the staff were hopeless. Our online order arrives tomorrow, and it’s over £100 cheaper.