Oxford college apologises 'unreservedly' after hosting Christian Concern training event

The Wilberforce Academy is held each year by Christian Concern.

Christian Concern has expressed its disappointment over reports that Worcester College - part of the University of Oxford - has apologised for hosting its training event. 

The Wilberforce Academy is a weeklong residential programme held each year by Christian Concern to equip young Christian students and professionals for public life. 

According to The Tab student newspaper, students took issue with Mike Davidson, a counsellor who helps people with unwanted same-sex attraction, being on the guest speaker list for the event.

"Many of us come to uni hoping to be allowed to be ourselves and know we can trust our new community and home," read an email from students to the college," the students said in an email to the college.

"But how are we expected to place our trust in somewhere that, if it weren't for a leaflet being left behind at breakfast, would have left us unaware that they had hosted a group that has consistently aimed to persecute and strip us of our rights for our sexuality, gender and or religion?"

The college has now apologised for "distress" to students and said it will undertake an "urgent review" of their booking process, with the fee from hosting the academy being used to fund "dedicated equality, diversity, and inclusivity initiatives".

A spokesperson for the college told The Tab, "We deeply regret the distress caused to students, staff and other members of the college community by the presence of the Wilberforce Academy conference.

"The college was not aware of the speaker list or programme content in advance. The booking was taken in good faith, but it is clear that our procedures did not work as they should. We have begun an urgent review to ensure that this does not happen again."

They added, "We acknowledge that this was a serious failure that has caused significant distress, and we apologise unreservedly to all those who have been affected."

Responding to the report, Christian Concern CEO Andrea Williams said Oxford University should continue to stand for free speech and free expression, and "allow its students to have the intellectual ability to decide whether they wish to attend external events, and to make up their own minds on what they hear."

"Sadly, we have had no communication from Worcester college about these reports of an 'apology' for hosting us, despite our attempts to contact staff and discuss what has been alleged," she said.

"But if the college has turned its back on us, it seems that cancel culture has once again demonstrated the power of its grip in one of our top universities, fuelled by a small group of activists who won't tolerate any view that departs from their own narrow ideology and who will resort to tactics of misrepresentation and sweeping allegations to get their way, seemingly frightening nearly everyone into submission."

Worcester College is headed up by David Isaac, a former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and previously a chairman of LGBT charity Stonewall.

During his time as equalities chief, Isaac defended free speech on Britain's campuses in the face of a deplatforming trend, and oversaw the release of EHRC guidance for universities and student unions aimed at protecting freedom of expression.

Ms Williams continued, "That a college now led by someone who has so often claimed to be a defender of freedom of expression in higher education is rumoured to have capitulated to this aggressive movement is even more concerning.

"We very much enjoyed our week at the college, were very warmly welcomed, including by the Provost, received many compliments from the staff and were not aware of any complaints or concerns being raised with us at the time. Yet now we hear it alleged that the college has 'apologised' for hosting us.

"We will be seeking urgent clarification. Whatever happens, we will continue to speak of Jesus Christ who was himself an 'outsider' and by his words and actions demonstrated his commitment to reaching the marginalised, excluded and vulnerable so that they could discover true hope and everlasting love through him, even sacrificing his own life to do so."

Worcester College has been contacted for comment.