On Sunday 8 October 2017 the Balliol JCR passed a motion that prohibited the banning of official Balliol religious societies (including the Christian Union) from attending the Freshers’ Fair in future. Following the press coverage that preceded the public release of this information, the Chaplain, Revd Canon Bruce Kinsey, writes:
One of the many joys of being Balliol’s Chaplain is to see the high energy and intellectual curiosity of our students and their determination to try out ideas, to think and reflect together. Over the years one sees students grow and develop as they explore concepts and challenges. Normally this natural growth is done without many people knowing of their private exploration. College is a small place, and privacy, where possible, is valued. So it was quite a challenge recently when internal discussions were leaked to the press right in the middle of those conversations taking place.
We actively encourage our students to explore ideas. We don’t agree with the ‘no platform’ culture. We want their thoughts to undergo difficult scrutiny, and that can be an uncomfortable process of growth, but it is also one which is essential for intellectual credibility. They have to hear and think about ideas they don’t like, and opinions that differ from their own.
A sadness for me and an eye-opener for many of our students has been to see the way the press has not handled our students very fairly. Those who have been named have taken the brunt of quite a lot of abuse and comments from people feeling they had a right to wade in before even knowing the facts. Some have clearly not even wanted to know the truth but felt that their opinion was essential to be heard.
It was not surprising for those of us who work here to see that the students resolved the matter swiftly, before the press had even published their stories. A warm and friendly resolution of the JCR said that they did want the Christian Union to have a stall at the Freshers’ Fair here in future. The difficult and challenging opinions of one or two needed to be heard, but on balance the JCR wanted the broader freedom which this College stands for and enjoys.
* * *
The Master sent the following letter to The Times:
I have resisted writing about the stories concerning Balliol JCR and the Christian Union in the belief that such misinformation will swallow itself in due time. I can resist no longer. The facts are that on the 8 October Balliol JCR passed a motion prohibiting the banning of official religious societies, including the Christian Union, from attending the Fresher’s Fair at the College - that is, the exact opposite of what the reports have claimed. There was such a proposal, it was never accepted, Balliol JCR happily agreeing with the College itself that we have no sympathy for no-platforming or so-called safe intellectual spaces.