UCL English Students have called on the department to clarify their stance on transgender rights after Professor signs letter expressing fears of its effect within academia.
54 academics signed a letter to The Guardian, published on the 16th October, entitled “Academics are being harassed over their research into transgender issues.” Amongst the signatures were five from UCL Professors – Dr Julia Jordan (English), Professor Sophie Scott (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience), Professor Judith Suissa, Dr Holly Smith, and Dr Ruth McGinity (all from the Institute of Education).
The letter detailed concerns about the “suppression” of proper academic analysis and “the discussion of social phenomenon transgenderism.” It expressed academics’ fears that reforms to the GRA would lead to the curtailment of academic freedom, facilitating censorship and resulting in those attempting to investigate this area from a range of critical perspectives being labelled as “transphobic;” a “dangerously all-encompassing” term. The letter was concluded urging the government to “take the lead” in protecting gender research from “an ideologically driven attack.”
The academics’ letter was triggered by the Government’s consultation of the Gender Recognition Act, in the form of an online survey open to the public, that closed on Monday 22nd October. Its purpose was to ask how best to make the current process under the GRA a better and more accessible service for trans and non-binary people. Proposed changes to the GRA would make it easier for trans individuals to self-identify without having to go through a lengthy process to prove their gender identity. The survey included questions such as:
“Do you think there needs to be changes to the GRA to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary?”
“Currently, applicants must pay £140 to apply for a GRA certificate. Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition?”
After department lecturer Dr Julia Jordan included her signature on the letter to The Guardian, UCL English students and alumni have urged the Head of English John Mullan to release a statement clarifying the department’s stance on transgender issues. Students described Dr Jordan’s actions as “alarming and disappointing” suggesting that her support for the “one-sided” letter could potentially lead to trans students feeling unwelcome in the department.
The letter was signed by approximately 50 students, the majority of whom were UCL alumni. It was sent to the Department on Wednesday 24th October. Professor Jordan declined to comment on the situation.
However, Professor Sophie Scott explained that she signed the letter to The Guardian because she feels there needs to be more discourse around these issues. In an interview with Pi Media she said: “Primarily I signed it because I think it’s really important that we support people’s ability to discuss difficult topics in academia. I don’t think anybody would want to make life in any way harder for anyone, particularly people who have legitimate reasons and things that need to be addressed in the GRA, but there has been a worrying lack of debate.”
She also affirmed that her expression of support does not reflect the “stance” of her department: “I signed it as an individual. There was no implication given that I was speaking on behalf of the department. I think everybody that signed it was signing as an individual.”