By Bethany Monk
Boris Johnson has received a massive amount of backlash regarding his status as an honorary doctoral graduate of Brunel University due to comments deemed racist, sexist, Islamophobic and homophobic.
Since the recent election, confirming Boris Johnson’s position as Prime Minister, the question has been raised regarding whether he should be allowed to keep his honorary degree.
The honorary degree is given out to individuals who have performed “outstanding service” nationally, locally or for the University, with many awarded simply due to a sizeable donation. This award has been given to several high-status individuals since the University opened in 1966, such as David Attenborough, Jeremy Clarkson and Margaret Thatcher.
Given the high-profile status of the award and those receiving it, it is understandable that some award recipients may receive backlash due to certain things that have been said or done that are seen to reflect poorly on the University.
Johnson’s appearance at London Pride 2019 was seen as largely controversial due to the increased debate around his homophobic comments. Examples of Johnson’s derogatory comments can be seen throughout his political career. In the past he has described women at a Labour conference as “hot Totty’s” and once claimed that voting Tory will give you bigger breasts.
It only gets worse from there. Johnson’s homophobic comments are found easily if even the slightest glance is taken towards past interviews he has given. Johnson has referred to gay men as “tank-topped bum-boys” (and has referred to them this way publicly since 1998) without acknowledgement that the phrase is derogatory and inappropriate. Other comments include claiming that if gay marriage is okay, then bestiality should also be allowed.
Due to Brunel’s accepting environment with the LGBTQ+ society showing prominence on campus, it seems ridiculous that the university would continue to support someone so openly against members of the student population.
Johnson further alienates students with his racist and Islamophobic comments. Most people are well aware of his comment comparing Muslim women to letterboxes. However, it is important to note that while I personally refuse to justify Johnson’s words, every story has two sides. This comment alone gained a large amount of support from the British public arguing that if a biker has to remove his helmet at a gas station to be identified, then Muslim women should also be made to take off their headgear for ‘safety reasons’. The comment itself is inexcusable but the basis behind it is a popular opinion.
Johnson’s Islamophobic comments go deeper than simply arguing equality on a ‘safety’ basis with his claims being as drastic as believing that it is natural for the public to be afraid of Islam as Johnson says: “It is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.” The list of derogatory comments could go on for pages and pages.
Brunel students have begun to question whether or not Johnson should be allowed to keep his honorary graduate status. It is important for the University to make it clear that it does not endorse Johnson’s actions as doing so would alienate many students. However, if Johnson’s degree status is rescinded, it sets a precedent for the removal of others.
If he loses his status because of homophobic comments does that mean the University also has to strip Margaret Thatcher of hers? Are the other receivers of the award exempt or does the entire system come into question? I do feel strongly that Johnson should be removed of his award and a public apology should be issued by the University for endorsing him in the past as a way of holding him accountable to the University’s values.
However, if this is something the student body is genuinely invested in for the sake of the values and ethos of the University, then we can’t start and stop with Boris Johnson. Other receivers of the award have to fall to the same level of scrutiny.