Statement on Joanna Williams Event


Statement on the Joanna Williams Talk 

On one hand, a University as a space for higher education, should be a ground for learning and the spreading of ideas, for free speech. On the other hand, the University must also be a safe space for the students who study there. It is thus the view of the Students’ Union that the University has missed the mark in this balancing act by providing a platform for a person who has made statements in the public sphere that directly prejudice members of our student body. 

We acknowledge that the balancing of the academic thirst for knowledge and free speech against dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric can be a difficult task, as this can often be subjective. One of our concerns with Joanna Williams stems from her comments on a Calvin Klein advertisement using plus sized and trans models where she wrote “even without the woke trans s*** who in their right mind would rush out to buy Calvin Klein after seeing this?” further stating in the comments that advertisement should be “aspirational rather than real!”, agreeing that adverts should only show beautiful people. This crass language used to describe human beings, no different to anyone else is intolerable and inexcusable, additionally upsetting as she will be speaking at the University during Pride Month. Her further comments on the beauty standards of advertising are incredibly out of touch given the decades of harm the ‘perfect body’ has caused. It is ironic that Joanna herself has said “there should be no space for political activism in the classroom” and yet is coming to an academic institution to share her highly political opinions in a talk on ‘Free speech in a time of woke’. 

The aim for the Students’ Union this year during Pride month is to highlight to students that this is a safe space to come out or talk through anything they might be feeling, as well as educating our students who may have had very little to no interaction with the queer community before. We are keenly aware of the different cultural backgrounds of our students and the influences this may have on their views; most importantly, how harmful these views can be to not only others but to themselves.  

The Students’ Union understands that the talk will not be cancelled or moved off campus, and so we urge our members to attend this event, happening today at 6pm in the Vinson Building, and speak out against the harmful rhetoric. We believe it is important that the University recognises that freedom of speech comes with a responsibility, not only those who listen to your platform, but to those represented by your platform. In this case, the University represents themselves as well as current, prospective, and former students. We wish to work with the University to put together a code of conduct that reflects the University’s bold take on free speech while protecting the dignity and personhood of the students they represent. 

At the time of our previous statement, we said that we would continue the conversation with the University. Unfortunately, not as much progress as we would have liked has been made. We are optimistic about working with the University in the coming months, in light of the new Higher Education (Free Speech) Act 2023, to come to a balanced solution. 

Should you wish to share any concerns or feedback on this issue, please reach out to your sabbatical officers below. 


Your Students’ Union, 

Toby Corbett - President  

Christine Telling – Vice President of Activities 

Toluwani Osamolu – Vice President of Student Voice 


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