of 1,000 signatures

To the management of the University of Edinburgh and the School of Health in Social Science

Petition text

We stand in solidarity with Kerry Rush, who has faced the brunt of the university’s inaction over ableism and transphobia. So far, university management has issued statements pledging to tackle ableism and transphobia on campus, but it would appear that these are simply empty words. Kerry’s case is symptomatic of the university’s treatment of staff and students which views us as commodities rather than people, and highlights the ways in which bigotry is allowed to persist unchallenged within university spaces.

The university’s poor disability service and lack of aid for disabled students has created an unsafe and hostile environment for many staff and students which often excludes them from campus life. Furthermore, bigotry remains unchallenged towards trans and non-binary people - for example, when university rector Ann Henderson retweeted transphobic comments on Twitter, the only form of accountability the university offered was a face-to-face mediation with PrideSoc and the Staff Pride Network. It is deplorable that the university expects trans and non-binary members of our community to politely sit and ‘debate’ their own existence. Kerry has unfortunately faced discrimination on grounds of both disability and gender.

The CPASS department repeatedly ignored Kerry’s reports of discrimination on the postgraduate Counselling and Psychotherapy course. Ranging from purposeful misgendering to literal verbal assault after being cornered by students in a pub (which resulted in the police being called out, who classified the event as a hate incident), Kerry was ignored by management despite feeling unsafe in their own classroom. Furthermore, the CPASS department and the Advice Place told Kerry that it would be necessary for them to have a face-to-face ‘mediation’ with their harassers should they want to pursue any sort of complaint. Kerry felt so unsafe that they became physically unwell and were forced to take a year out from their postgraduate diploma. It is disgraceful that Kerry was treated as the problem in this situation, rather than the staff and students who created such a hostile and oppressive learning environment. No student should have to spend more time explaining themselves and protecting themselves from bigotry than they spend learning.

Kerry has also faced neglect on grounds of disability, something which almost proved fatal. Despite reporting that they felt unsafe attending classes from January due to COVID-19, the department informed Kerry that they must maintain an attendance rate of 85 percent or undertake remedial work (on top of the course’s normal workload). Unfortunately, after repeatedly raising concerns within their department (which were ignored), Kerry contracted COVID-19 in March. They were then told that they would only be exempt from remedial work if they had received a positive test for coronavirus - something not accessible to the public until April. Their condition continued to worsen, eventually leading to severe problems with their kidneys; as it turns out, they had an underlying incurable kidney disease which had not yet been diagnosed, and contracting COVID-19 led to a dramatic rise in its severity. It should be noted that from January (when Kerry first raised concerns about attending classes due to their health) they had been self-isolating as much as possible, with university classes being their only contact with large groups of people.

At the end of the semester Kerry's kidneys were functioning at 20 percent - which is life-threatening. They were still expected to give an end-of-course presentation, despite being rushed to hospital days before, and requiring ambulance care the day before they were due to present. Upon being unable to give said presentation due to being seriously unwell, Kerry was told they would need to to make up for missing this assignment. No alternative form of assessment was suggested to Kerry, and instead the onus was put upon them to consider and propose a means of making up for said assignment. This is cruel and unfair, especially in the context of wider course policy for said assignment: exemptions were made for other students who experienced technical issues, and some were told they would not be penalised should they be unable to give their presentation as a result. Students suffering from health issues, it would appear, were not granted the same compassion. Not only is this ludicrous during a time of global pandemic, it is discriminatory against disabled individuals. Acute kidney disease should be considered a valid exemption in any university.

Kerry has been in and out of hospital frequently since initially developing symptoms of COVID-19, most recently only two weekends ago. They have been officially diagnosed with longtail COVID-19 syndrome, meaning that almost six months later they are still experiencing symptoms. It is this syndrome which has attacked Kerry’s kidneys, resulting in a diagnosis of IgA Nephropathy. Due to the constant pain and inconsistent kidney function Kerry now faces, doctors are considering a second biopsy to check for further kidney issues. All of this has occurred as a direct consequence of Kerry catching COVID-19 after being forced to physically attend classes.

As a final ableist course of action the department is still billing Kerry for teaching time, and is now encouraging them to take a year out (despite the fact that Kerry has already been forced to take a year out thanks to ableism and transphobia faced previously). This bill comes with no apology or acknowledgment of wrongdoing, and seems especially cruel given that Kerry must fund the extra costs associated with frequently accessing hospital care and requiring a carer twice a day.

It is clear that the university has treated Kerry as a problem student rather than a person deserving of care and safeguarding, and that within our institution disabled, trans, and non-binary people are treated as second-class. What the university is doing to Kerry is exemplary of the university’s indifference and outright disdain for minority staff and students. We are asking the University of Edinburgh to acknowledge its repeated wrongdoings, and to take tangible action in order to prevent this from happening to any student ever again. Please see below for a list of actions which must take place immediately.

1: The University of Edinburgh must deliver a formal apology for allowing the transphobia and ableism of staff and students.
2: The University of Edinburgh must deliver a further apology for not taking the appropriate cautions in the midst of a global pandemic, forcing disabled students to attend lectures, allowing absences only if students had tested positive for COVID-19, giving students remedial work if they stopped attending out of fears for their health and putting lives at risk due to negligence and ableism.

3: Kerry, and other postgraduate students in the same situation, must not be forced to do remedial work to maintain their studies.

4: Kerry’s bill must be dropped, in light of the fact that they have not had access to a suitable learning environment due to ableism and transphobia, and have also been forced to pay for a carer and travel to repeated hospital and other specialist appointments, due to the University’s careless attitude towards their safety.

5: Examined work impacted by illnesses, physical or mental, must be rescheduled or simply cut, without putting the onus on the student to propose an alternative form of assessment.

6: Concrete policies against ableism must be adopted by the University, including but not limited to having working lifts in all University buildings, and ensuring that disability is adequately accounted for in terms of teaching and examination.

7: Concrete policies must be implemented to tackle transphobia, including but not limited to having staff and students penalised for bigotry rather than their victims, and unconscious bias training as standard.

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