Keziah Conroy looks at the darker side of a brand new society here at UCL.
You might have become aware of the self-styled “brand new and exciting society” that is UCLU Life Ethics society. They vaguely claim to be “for those interested in what it means to be human”, and aim to bring “a debate on life to University College London”. Recent issues raised concern artificial intelligence and the essence of humanity, but the issue is with their previous topics of discourse.
I first became aware of them when their President, Joe Barron-Snowden, contacted me in my capacity as President of UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society. They’re hosting an event titled “What separates humans from animals?” and were looking for an “atheist scholar” to debate a Catholic priest and a Buddhist monk.
Naturally, we arranged for a pantheistic Quaker anthropologist to represent us. She agreed to do so on good faith (no pun intended), none of us thinking that there could be any ulterior motive to this “brand new and exciting society”.
With a bit of googling, we soon found that the pro-life group March For Life were over the moon with the official affiliation of the Life Ethics society to UCLU, as were Cambridge Students for Life. Furthermore, the Life Ethics society had ties to the Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS).
Joe Barron-Snowden’s original article for APS, published 1st April 2015, has since been deleted. But, as those of us from the sexting generation know all too well, you can’t delete anything from the internet.
“It took three lengthy applications, many committee meetings and one whole year to get the UCL Life Ethics society affiliated with UCLU. Being a pro-life group, we expected that we might have some difficulties in starting up a group, but we didn’t expect it to take over a year! Anyway eventually, we got there -YIPPEE!”, writes Joe.
When challenged, we were first told that “we are not a pro-life society”. Later, that became “we are no longer attached to the pro-life movement in any way”. APS confirmed that they are no longer affiliated.
UCLU has a pro-choice motion in place. Among other things, this means that “When clubs and societies invite anti-choice speakers they should also invite a pro-choice speaker to balance the debate on a person’s right to choose”. Although the motion does not mean that a pro-life society would be disallowed, correspondence with UCLU revealed that the Life Ethics society’s affiliation with UCLU is subject to “stringent”, but unspecified, terms and conditions.
UCLU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist society has fought the union before (and won) over our right to freedom of expression. We are opposed to censorship, something which Atheist, Secularist and Humanist societies across the country routinely face from their student unions. We support freedom of belief – even when we disagree with those beliefs – but condemn this deception.
Perhaps they’re trying to move away from their roots or perhaps they’re trying to hide them. Nevertheless, this vagueness is something which could potentially dupe pro-choice students into paying membership fees, effectively supporting the pro-life lobby without knowing it.
If you would like to attend the debate this week, it will be on Tuesday 27th October in Cruciform LT1 from 6pm.