Update (September 9, 2020): Ebenezer Azamati, a blind postgraduate student from Ghana who was dragged out of the Oxford Union debate chamber last year, has been compensated for the incident the union said “was fundamentally wrong.”
Though the compensation amount hasn’t been specified, Daily Mail reports the union has awarded him several thousands of pounds.
Azamati, who was 25 years old at the time, arrived early at the Oxford Union on October 17, 2019 to reserve a section in anticipation there might not be any provisions made for disabled students. Azamati placed a book on one of the seats near the chamber’s entrance to save his spot and returned to school for a meal.
When he came back with a friend, officials denied entry to Azamati and were seen manhandling him out of his seat. Brendon McGrath, then-union president, alleged that Azamati had behaved violently in a disciplinary meeting.
The charges against Azamati were dropped following public outcry and McGrath apologized for harm caused to the Ghanaian student. In November 2019, McGrath resigned from his position citing an inability to make all students feel safe, The Birmingham Mail reports.
In its statement, the union admitted the disciplinary proceedings were falsely brought against Azamati.
“We also accept that the allegations of dishonesty and violence made against Mr Azamati by the Union have caused acute distress to Mr Azamati and serious harm to his reputation. We accept that those allegations are wholly unfounded and untrue, and we apologise for making the statements that contained them. What happened to Mr Azamati was fundamentally wrong,” the union said.
In addition to the compensation, the union also said they met with Azamati’s representatives and have collaborated to “commission an independent Equality and Access Review to be undertaken by two specialist lawyers.”
“They will closely examine our rules, policies, procedures, practices, staff roles and responsibilities and training requirements to identify any changes that are legally required, otherwise necessary, or desirable. The Review will seek the input of interested persons and produce a report with recommendations. The Review Report will be published in the interests of full transparency,” the union said.
Original story (November 21, 2019): The president of Oxford Union in England has resigned after a Black blind postgraduate student was “dragged by his ankles” from a society debate, The Guardian reports.
Ebenezer Azamati, who is Ghanian, arrived early to the debate to get a seat to accommodate his disability, HuffPost notes. He later left the chamber, but when he returned he was denied entry after being told it was full. When a friend came, he re-entered with them but was later forced out by security and expelled from the union.
Henry Hatwell, a 21-year-old law student who was at the debates and witnessed the incident, told CNN that security staff used “disproportionate” force.
Brendan McGrath, president of the society, apologized for the incident and has since resigned. Several other senior officials at the union have also resigned, according to Cherwell, the university’s student magazine.
In his resignation statement, McGrath said he wants there to be an independent review of the union’s policies on disability services as well as a look into staff and security training.
Azamati said the incident made him feel “unwelcome in the union, Oxford and even the country.” He also said that Oxford isn’t doing enough to acknowledge that he did nothing wrong in the first place, according to The Guardian.
“I would like the union to state now, clearly and straightforwardly, that I am not at fault in any way for the way I was treated,” he said in a statement through lawyers.
Oxford University previously tweeted its support for the student.
“We share the widespread outrage regarding the unacceptable treatment of Ebenezer Azamati, a member of our University community, at the Oxford Union. Ebenezer’s college and the University are working to fully support him,” the university said in a statement.
“The Union is an entirely independent club not governed by the University, but this student’s treatment goes against our culture of inclusivity and tolerance – we are pressing the Union for answers on how they plan to remedy the issue and ensure this does not happen in future,” the statement continued.
Oxford Union has a tradition of hosting debates and speakers with a prestigious history, BBC reports. Former British prime minister Harold Macmillan once said the union is “the last bastion of free speech in the Western world.”