Jess O'Brien (left), current Disabled Students' Officer, and Kerensa Gaunt (right), running to hold the role next yearRosie Bradbury

Jess O’Brien’s campaign has been issued its second ban today, and a candidate for Disabled Students’ Officer (DSO), Kerensa Gaunt has levelled bullying allegations against O’Brien.

O’Brien is the current DSO as part of this year’s sabbatical team, and is also running to be University Councillor when they return to study next year.

Their campaign was suspended for a full day starting midday on Tuesday. The Elections Committee (EC) wrote that a Facebook account that belonged to O’Brien – under the name Isceá Aloisia Ó Brian, which translates to Jessica Alicia O’Brien – had messaged Cambridge Zero Carbon. The account asked them to ‘endorse RON’ for a particular role that went unnamed by the EC.

Kerensa Gaunt, who is currently the Disabled Students’ Campaign’s Class Act Officer, as well as CUSU Executive for Part-Time Students, later said on Facebook that the messages were about her candidacy for DSO, which was confirmed to Varsity by the EC.

O’Brien claimed another student was responsible for the messages, and that they had given this student their log-in details, as they wished “to anonymously raise concerns about a particular candidate” to Zero Carbon, Cambridge Defend Education, and Cambridge Marxist Society.

Gaunt cast doubt on O’Brien’s account, and wrote that the claim the messages had been sent “by a third party without their knowledge is in my view implausible and, even if true, still unacceptable”.

“This is especially the case seeing as the message sent refers to details only known by a handful of individuals within the Disabled Students’ Campaign and the leftist organising I am part of.”

Moreover, the messages in question were sent after Gaunt had already made a formal complaint against O’Brien on 29th February, for what Gaunt said she “perceived to be one of many acts of bullying and harassment.”

In comment to Varsity, O’Brien said: “As this has been subject to a formal complaint I am unable to share details of events. I believe I have always acted in a professional manner, and I am happy to accept and follow due process, as with the Elections Committee decision this morning.”

Gaunt said that she had “attempted to deal with this in a professional manner, not wanting to publicly discuss it until the election period was over”. She also alleged that O’Brien had shown “aggression… towards others in their paid sabbatical role” this year, and added that “this behaviour has been the subject of many reconciliatory attempts”. She claimed to have organised “a meeting with committee and union staff members to attempt to resolve disputes,” which eventually “proved impossible.”

“Several committee members” of the Disabled Students’ Campaign “quit because of how they felt they had been treated”, claimed Gaunt.

Varsity spoke to two other students, Aberdeen Powell and Emma Carey, who are planning to resign from the DSC this term, and who also said that two other students have already resigned from the Committee this year. A third anonymous student said they will resign if O’Brien does not leave their role.


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Powell said that there have been “difficult events that have surrounded the campaign this year, but the environment has been inexcusable”, and that some students on the Committee felt uncomfortable “confronting O’Brien on things, or disagreeing openly with certain controversial decisions.” They added that O’Brien had seemed to “approach the role as if the DSC committee is secondary or an extra bit of bureaucracy they need to work around, rather than an essential part of the role”.

This is not the first time in this election cycle that O’Brien’s campaign has faced EC intervention. On 29th February, the Committee issued a campaign ban for six hours on 1st March – as O’Brien had not removed an endorsement by CUSU Part-Time Executive for Education, Rory Kent, within 24 hours.

Candidates had been reminded on the 28th to remove all endorsements by CUSU Executive Officers, as they are not allowed to endorse election candidates, “unless they themselves are running for office.”

O’Brien’s first campaign ban was initially reduced to three hours after an appeal, as the EC wrote that they had given “some grounds” for not having taken the posts down by the deadline, and deleted them after they were contacted by the EC.

The EC commented to Varsity that “as this matter concerns a current sabbatical officer, Elections Committee has also referred the issue to the CUSU Board of Trustees.”

“We are unable to comment further while an independent investigation is being conducted.”

Stay up-to-date with this term’s elections with rolling coverage from Varsity, to be found on our live blog and elections hub.