No Offence, founded by third-year PPE student Jacob Williams and Oxford local Lulie Tanett, is a magazine recently set up to ‘promote debate and publicise ideas people are afraid to express’. According to Williams, it grew out of Facebook group Open Oxford; a popular discussion forum with more than 2000 members.
Submissions to the magazine have been solicited and collated over the summer; print publication is currently underway. The intention was to hand out copies of the newly-bound print edition to freshers. Upon having sent OUSU copies of the magazine, however, Williams was informed that this would not be permitted.
‘Regulation thirteen’ is available to view on the OUSU website, and printed below:
In practice, this rule means that OUSU is entitled to remove any material at any time from any stall, without giving further explanation or issuing refunds to stallholders. It was understood that Jacob and Lulie will not be reimbursed for the £40 they spent on the stall. An OUSU spokesperson later clarified that a refund would be available if asked for.
OUSU’s VP for Welfare & Equal Opps told VERSA: “”We at OUSU do not wish to have an event which is intended to welcome new students to Oxford associated with a publication making light of racism, sexual violence, and homophobia in an attempt at satire. The Freshers’ Fair is one of OUSU’s most widely attended events and while Open Oxford are entitled to book a stall and distribute their publication elsewhere, we chose to withdraw their permission to distribute the publication. OUSU exists to represent and enhance the lives of all Oxford students and given that Freshers’ Fair is for new students, we do not wish to subject them to the offensive views of a minority which are present in this publication. Such views are in no way representative of Oxford students as whole.”
In response to No Offence‘s prohibition, Williams replied to OUSU informing that he was willing to consider alterations to the magazine on the proviso that these did not ‘completely change its character’. OUSU’s response did not even acknowledge this offer; instead, telling Jacob (who stated that, were OUSU to decline to work with him, he would contact student press) that they had already contacted The Oxford Student – a publication funded and overseen by OUSU themselves. OUSU are also paying for copies of The Oxford Student to be distributed for free at freshers’ fair.
Williams commented that “There is nothing offensive about healthy debate. To ban us from promoting it on the grounds that people might be offended proves everything the free speech movement has been saying. No offence OUSU, but you just shot yourself in the foot.”
Tanett added “We’re not inciting violence – as many people do with impunity. We’re not revealing national security secrets – as many people would applaud. We’re not even campaigning for any particular view to be listened to. All we’re doing is campaigning for events and magazines like ours to not be shut down. For the free exchange of ideas.”
Lulie and Jacob are not newcomers to the free speech debate: when she was 17, Lulie dealt with repeated threats and attempts of violence over her decision to wear an Israeli flag in public:
In the wake of these attacks, she wrote “I don’t want my country to be like this. I don’t want to be scared into not showing my support for a cause that I feel strongly about…I refuse to let anyone scare me into submission.”
Interestingly, the OUSU-backed Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, whose co-chair was at the centre of an anti-Semitism storm and has since refused to resign, will be present and distributing materials at the fair.
When asked what their new plans for distributing No Offence were, the pair chose to stay mysterious.
OUSU has been contacted for comment.