Event dropped by Massey probably fine at Otago

A controversial  feminist event not allowed at Massey University would probably be permitted at the University of Otago - as long as it met the university's standards of "free and respectful open debate'', a spokeswoman says.

RNZ last week quoted Massey University saying Feminism 2020 - organised by the group Speak Up For Women - was dropped due to health and safety concerns, and Massey's "duty of care to the university community''.

The move came after a petition with nearly 6000 signatures was delivered to the university's vice-chancellor Jan Thomas, calling for the event to be cancelled.

A student group opposing transphobia said students had had concerns about their welfare leading up to the event, particularly trans women.

Speak Up For Women opposes the inclusion of transgender women in the same sports categories as cisgender women, and gender self-identification on birth certificates.

An Otago spokeswoman said yesterday the issue was hypothetical and it was unclear exactly what had led to Massey's decision to stop the event.

"That said, [Otago University] is supportive of respectful free and open debate, and provided events are consistent with that and can be organised in a suitable way, we would normally expect to allow them to go ahead,'' she said.

In the past, Otago had permitted speakers on campus who offered alternative viewpoints, "some of which may attract controversy'', including representatives from anti-fluoride groups, anti-vaccination groups and individuals who did not believe in climate change.

"As part of our role as critic and conscience of society, we strongly encourage our academics and students to provide evidence-based views so that the public can hear informed, factual and balanced arguments.''

Otago physiology academic Prof Alison Heather, who has researched the effects of sex hormones on performance in sport, spoke at one of Speak Up For Women's events in February.

Prof Heather is one of a group of Otago academics who have suggested other options allowing trans women to compete, including having a third division in competitive sports.

elena.mcphee@odt.co.nz

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