The only black member of the Oxford Union – a prestigious British debating society with high-profile politicians among its alumni – has resigned following the abuse of a blind Ghanaian student Ebenezer Azamati.
The 25-year-old Ghanaian was dragged by the ankles out of a hall where a debate was about taking place. The incident has brought Oxford Union under pressure provoking a wave of resignations from the society as videos have spread online showing the student struggling with a security guard who forcefully tried to pry him off a bench.
On Monday evening, Jeremy Bararia, the only black member of the union’s governing body, stepped down and joined calls for the resignation of the society’s president, who at first accused Mr. Azamati of violent misconduct before dropping his complaint and apologizing weeks later.
“Coming to Oxford, I had been warned that the union was an elitist institution, nothing more than a playground for privately educated, power-hungry people who held little, if any regard for ordinary members,” Mr. Bararia wrote in a letter to the society’s president, Brendan McGrath, which has been sighted by DailyMailGH.
He added: “I feel that not only as a person of color and African, but as an individual with a sense of morality, I can no longer remain within an institution such as this, so long as you remain in office.”
His resignation brings to eight the number of executives of the white organization who have resigned since the case came up.
Mr. Azamati, who is a member of the union, said he feels worthless to be in the UK following the incident which took place on Oct. 17, and that he was considering legal action.
“I never expected anything like that could happen to me in Britain, let alone Oxford,” he said. “I still feel threatened.”
He added that the encounter “keeps playing on my mind.”
The Oxford Union is a private society, independent of Oxford University, though most of its members are current or past students. In an email, the union said, “We are in ongoing discussions with Mr. Azamati in order to pursue a solution agreeable to all parties, which addresses the structural issues raised; we do not wish to prejudice those discussions with further comment at this time.”
According to the Sunday Times, Azamati’s union membership was suspended for two terms following the incident after the union’s president, Brendan McGrath, subsequently called a disciplinary committee meeting, alleging that Azamati had behaved violently by thrusting an arm out and using aggressive hand gestures as he was being removed from his seat.
“In being publicly removed from the Oxford Union Society made me feel unwelcome in the Union, Oxford, and even the country. I felt that I was treated as not being human enough to deserve justice and fair treatment,” he told the Times.
Appearing before the disciplinary committee hearing Saturday, fellow student Henry Hatwell, 21, said: “Thirty seconds after he [Azamati] sat down, the security guard came in. Five seconds afterwards, he started touching Azamati, who was holding on to the bench. Thirty seconds later, they were dragging him by his ankles.”
And as pressure mounts on McGrath to resign following the incident, he formally withdrew the charge of violent misconduct against Azamati and apologized “unreservedly” for the distress and damage he had caused the 25-year-old blind Ghanaian student, reports Guardian on Saturday.
Witnesses who were at the debate testified at the hearing claimed Azamati was being “dragged by his ankles.”
Oxford University said: “The Oxford Union is an independent society. The university has no control over its events.”