One attendee was told that “we attract the loonies” Varsity

Content note: Discussion of homophobia and misogyny

Speakers at a social held by the conservative society (CUCA) last Saturday (22/1) made homophobic and misogynistic remarks that left attendees “shocked.”

As part of a satirical debate on parties, society treasurer and Union president James Vitali said “all good parties start with men in one room and women in the other.” Writing on Facebook today (29/1), he claimed his remark about parties was in reference to one he had attended that was “reminiscent of high-school parties where boys and girls immediately separate.”

In the same debate, Vitali described a waitress as “fat”, which he “unequivocally” denied on the Facebook post after the publication of this article. According to one witness, most seemed to “nod along” with him.

Two female students were seen crying at the end of the evening, and former CUCA chairman Zachary Marsh personally apologised to several women who attended the event, sources said. Marsh denies he made an apology. 

During a debate on the culture war, one audience member attacked gay marriage, saying that he regretted how the representation of gay characters in TV had led to its legalisation. Marsh later criticised the speaker’s argument.

In a different debate on whether to get married, attendees said one speaker argued that since “women are sinful”, academics shouldn’t tie the knot – praising Isaac Newton’s celibacy as an example of someone who chose intellect over sex. He added that he would happily “die a virgin if Isaac Newton did,” going on to count the nine women in the room but concluded there were “not enough to go around.”

Another speaker said that if men wanted loyalty in marriage, they should “marry a dog.”

Attendees wondered “how is this being allowed?” One witness said that during the speeches, they were told that “we attract the loonies.”

“You’d be surprised how many people in that room weren’t bothered”, they added, saying that the “sentiment that women should stick to their responsibilities was repeated by many speakers.”

One observer described how “women were laughing in a shocked way but like they didn’t want to be there.” Another said that most people were shocked by the debates, and that the atmosphere felt “unwelcoming” and “uncomfortable.”

By all accounts, speakers were drunk when they made the comments: one said he was so intoxicated he had spilled port over his speech.

Society chairman Sam Hunt, who also serves as the Union’s debates officer, chose the speakers and moderated the debate.

However, he told Varsity that chairmen never receive previews of the speeches delivered at Port and Policy.

“Although the list of quotations presented to me for comment is not accurate, I am unreservedly sorry to anybody who was offended or made to feel uncomfortable by anything said that evening. I should add that all the speeches were frequently challenged and disputed by other members of the Association via ‘points of information’ and floor speeches.

“My role as Chair is not to express value-judgements on the contents of the debates by intervening, but to encourage and enable those disagreements to be voiced by the audience instead. I am delighted to say that last Saturday, I was able to do so. It is through this multiplicity of opportunities for debate and rebuttal that Port and Policy strives to be a welcoming environment for all.”

Marsh denies he apologised to female attendees: “Whilst I spoke to a variety of attendees to ensure that they felt comfortable and welcome at the event, as all current and former committee strive to do, I at no point apologised on CUCA’s behalf for the content of the speeches.”

Although witnesses said that Marsh confronted Hunt over what was said, they both deny any confrontation took place.

According to Marsh, he was “delighted that Sam expressly gave [him] the opportunity to confront and challenge the comments made on gay marriage.” And Hunt said that his “interaction was amicable at all times.”

This article was updated to include James Vitali’s response on Facebook.

This article was further updated on 10/03.