Barbara Stocking has been President of Murray Edwards since 2013WEF

Barbara Stocking released a statement today apologising to Murray Edwards students following criticism by Murray Edwards College Student Union (MECSU) of her handling of the Oxfam scandal.

In a statement released to Varsity, Stocking said she was “very sorry if students at Murray Edwards feel that I was at all dismissive about sexual exploitation in Haiti” and vowed to “continue to engage with students to listen to their concerns and assure them that their safety and welfare are of paramount concern to me”.

Responding to MECSU’s specific concerns of her handling of the scandal, Stocking said: “Throughout my career I have championed the rights of women and black and ethnic minorities. I have fought hard to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of women of all races and backgrounds across the world and I am committed to bringing those concerned to justice.

“In Cambridge I have supported students who have suffered sexual harassment and rape. I would be horrified to think that any student at the College feels that I might not listen to her complaint of harassment; I assure them that this is not the case.”

In full Stocking’s statement

“I am very sorry if students at Murray Edwards feel that I was at all dismissive about sexual exploitation in Haiti and that the language I used in that meeting caused upset to any student. I certainly do not believe Haiti to be uncivilised. I was trying to discuss honestly some of the challenges faced by international organisations seeking to respond to terrible human suffering caused by a major natural disaster. I was so shocked when the sexual exploitation in Haiti was reported to me that I immediately assembled an investigation team and, when the allegations were found to be true, all seven men involved lost their jobs. I have always taken these issues extremely seriously.

Throughout my career I have championed the rights of women and black and ethnic minorities. I have fought hard to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of women of all races and backgrounds across the world and I am committed to bringing those concerned to justice. Here in Cambridge I have supported students who have suffered sexual harassment and rape. I would be horrified to think that any student at the College feels that I might not listen to her complaint of harassment; I assure them that this is not the case.

I will continue to engage with students to listen to their concerns and assure them that their safety and welfare are of paramount concern to me.”

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On Sunday evening, MECSU released a statement demanding a “formal apology” from the College for “being too hasty to express their support for Dame Barbara, for failing to consult the opinion of members of the College first, and for implying in statements to the press that the student body is universally supportive.”

The statement, which was written by the Women’s Officer, BME officer, and Communications Officer, was emailed to all Murray Edwards students this morning. The statement also added that it was “crucial to recognise how BME students in particular have been alienated by Dame Barbara’s conduct”, noting that “numerous BME students have contacted the JCR to express the distress and concern that Dame Barbara’s conduct has caused them”.

In full MECSU’s statement

Murray Edwards JCR, on behalf of members of the undergraduate body, wish to express our disappointment with Dame Barbara Stocking's response to the recent allegations regarding her role in the cover up of sexual exploitation in Haiti while CEO of Oxfam. Her conduct has seriously called into question the viability of protecting students’ welfare, particularly that of BME students, while Dame Barbara continues to act as college President.

In an open meeting with students held on 13th February to discuss allegations against her, Dame Barbara spoke about sexual exploitation in a dismissive manner, presenting it as an inevitability in a ‘disaster zone’ and comparing it to crimes such as fraud. Students have also been dismayed by Dame Barbara’s demeanour during appearances on national television, with her smirking and smiling while discussing serious allegations signalling a complete lack of regard for the victims of sexual exploitation. We know there are survivors and victims of sexual assault in college. Such a cavalier attitude to sexual assault is an affront to the experiences of these students. Students have raised serious concerns about the possibility of maintaining a relationship of trust between staff and students while staff with responsibility for student welfare continue to stand by Dame Barbara as President. Some students have told us they have no confidence in College’s commitment to advocating for them if they themselves were to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against senior staff.

It is crucial to recognise how BME students in particular have been alienated by Dame Barbara’s conduct. In the open meeting mentioned above, Dame Barbara used racially charged language, constructing Haiti as an uncivilised nation, stating that ‘these things happen’ in places ‘where there is no rule of law’, moving the burden of responsibility for sexual exploitation away from its white western perpetrators. The President of Haiti himself has contested this racialised narrative, stating that Dame Barbara’s suggestion that crimes were not reported because nothing would be done about them 'is really an insult to my country because you are working in a place and country which is not a forest’. For the first half of the twentieth century, the diagnosis of white colonialists with ‘tropical neurasthenia’ served as a powerful explanatory tool, putting the failures of the supposedly civilising project of Empire down to the local climate and population. Echoes of this colonial narrative are evident in the language Dame Barbara has used to address the behaviour of Oxfam employees in Haiti.

That the President of our college has conducted herself in such a manner has been an extremely alienating experience for BME students in college. Numerous BME students have contacted the JCR to express the distress and concern that Dame Barbara’s conduct has caused them. It is important to remember that Murray Edwards is not just an educational institution, but students’ home in Cambridge for the the duration of our degrees. Unfortunately, Dame Barbara’s conduct has had a serious impact on students’ ability to feel at home in college, where we must brush up against her in corridors and dining spaces every day. We believe Dame Barbara's lack of regard for black women’s lives in Haiti is impossible to disentangle from her conduct in college and the welfare of BME students. This incident has highlighted an ongoing problem of racist microaggressions experienced by students in encounters with Dame Barbara over several years. Such microaggressions form part of the wider experience of BME students in Cambridge, who face institutional racism on a daily basis. College’s inaction in dealing with this issue is a prime example of how Cambridge institutions work to facilitate what Dr Priyamvada Gopal has recently referred to as the 'genteel liberal racism that is the very lifeblood of Cambridge social intercourse’.

For college to rebuild trust with students, there must be recognition of our grievances. A serious conversation about how race affects the experience of students in college must take place, led by BME students. College must reaffirm its dedication to taking sexual assault seriously and its commitment to survivors and victims over abusers who occupy positions of power. The JCR is asking for a formal apology from the college for being too hasty to express their support for Dame Barbara, for failing to consult the opinion of members of the college first, and for implying in statements to the press that the student body is universally supportive. After all, it is we, the students, who are Murray Edwards College, not the President. Finally, we call for a dialogue about whether these processes of rebuilding trust can take place while Dame Barbara Stocking remains our President. The situation as it stands now is unconscionable. We know that many BME students and survivors and victims of sexual abuse are finding it impossible to feel safe in college. Murray Edwards must seriously address what can and should be done to redress the harm that has been caused.

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A copy of MECSU’s statement was also shown to the senior tutor, Dr Juliet Foster. This morning, in an email sent to all students, Foster apologised for not communicating “directly with you as our students more”. Foster also pledged to hold an “informal open meeting” alongside the deputy senior tutor, which would focus on the “important questions of race and ethnicity in some depth”.

A Murray Edwards spokesperson also responded to MECSU's statement on Monday afternoon, saying: “We understand how strongly our students feel. We support their right to share their views and are committed to listening and engaging with them.

"The College Council is deeply concerned about the issues raised by the students. We have held meetings with students and plan more. We will maintain this dialogue. The College Council continues actively to monitor the developing situation. Murray Edwards College is determined to maintain its focus on challenging gender inequality in the world.”

Today’s statement by Stocking is the latest development following allegations made by The Times that, while CEO of Oxfam, Stocking was involved in the cover-up of of sexual misconduct by aid workers in Haiti and Chad. Despite the allegations, Murray Edwards College were firm in their support for Stocking.

A spokesperson for the College had told Varsity that the College believed the accusations were “untrue” and had “no relevance whatsoever for Barbara Stocking’s current role as President of Murray Edwards College, University of Cambridge” emphasising  “she has the College’s full support”. Stocking went on to cancel her Union in visit in light of the allegations.

The College later held an open meeting on the 13th February, in which students were able to ask questions to Stocking directly. In a statement released by MECSU Stocking was criticised for her conduct at this meeting, with the student union claiming that she “spoke about sexual exploitation in a dismissive manner, presenting it as an inevitability in a ‘disaster zone’”

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