The Student spoke with University of Edinburgh student Esme Allman about her complaint against law student Robbie Travers, the university’s response and the subsequent public attention the story has gained.
Was there a specific incident which prompted you to file a complaint against Robbie Travers?
Yes. He received screenshots I made in the Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Facebook group. He threatened me with sending my comments “black men are trash” to multiple media outlets. My comment was in response to the misogyny experienced by Serena Williams at the hands of black men online. He, a white man, accused me, a black woman, of being an anti-black racist.
What were the main points of your complaint?
I believed Travers had breached the student code of conduct. By publishing my comment out of its original context to an online audience of almost 17,000 and likening it to Neo-Nazism he became quite clear he was not only attempting to smear but discredit the hard work of the Edinburgh University Students’ Union BME Campaign this year. Also in the status he disclosed my university, the city I live in and my role at Edinburgh.
He also allegedly threatened to report me to the Prevent regime for apparent radicalisation. Travers knowingly put me in danger online by skewing my comments and releasing them to what I understand is a hostile audience.
My complaint was for harassment as well as inappropriate behaviour online. I have never met nor interacted with him before, whether on an online platform or in real life.
How did you first become aware of the media coverage of the investigation and what was your initial reaction?
I was contacted by a representative of Jonathan Ames, the writer of The Times article, via my personal Facebook page, on my birthday. I alerted the University immediately and they instructed me not to engage. On the morning I left for my year abroad, my Facebook inbox was overwhelmed with internet trolls. It was unsurprising but quite scary.
Have you received any messages from supporters of Robbie Travers via social media?
Unfortunately, yes. I’ve been accused of being an Iwiw sympathiser, I’ve been told I need investigating, that I’m ‘Allah’s bitch/pig’, that I’m a whore. Yeah… a whole lot.
After widespread news coverage to the contrary, the University of Edinburgh confirmed that Robbie Travers was investigated for a breach of student code of conduct rather than for mocking a terrorist group. How do you feel about the University’s overall handling of your complaint and subsequent media attention?
It’s been poor. They instructed me not to talk to The Times and two days later, I was all over the news. They assured me it would blow over.
I filed my complaint in May. The person leading the investigation changed twice. I was interviewed whilst I was still in [the]exam period.
Over the summer period, my emails asking them for updates on the investigation were frequently met with out of office emails or assured me that progress was being made.
On Thursday September 7, the University concluded their investigation into my complaint: they found Travers did not violate the Student Code of Conduct under the clauses I filed my complaint under.
I believe the University has co-signed his behaviour by not sanctioning him. I followed the rules. I didn’t retaliate to his initial message to me nor his status attempting to smear my name. I did not speak to the press about the investigation.
They offered no support nor did they attempt to clarify to the press that my complaint did not mention Islamophobia but that it was because Travers has harassed me personally on an online forum and had the capacity to do it again (which he did when talking to the press).
I’m massively disappointed I put my faith into an institution that ultimately failed me. They have failed all of the black and brown students who cannot and do not feel safe at university because figures like Travers continue to target us without punishment.
The Edinburgh University Students’ Association, as well as the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, have reached out to me, to which I am appreciative.
The Times reported that part of your complaint accuses Travers of “persistent denigrations and disparagement of protected characteristics and blatant Islamophobia”. In your role as BME convenor at the University last year, do you feel the type of behaviour Travers was accused of occurs on a wider scale within the University?
My complaint never mentioned Islamophobia. That quote wasn’t in my complaint. As I am not a Muslim woman I’m not comfortable commenting on an experience that isn’t mine.
Travers claim that he is being investigated for ‘mocking Isis’ has sparked further debate over whether safe spaces within Higher Education Institutions stifles debate and go too far. Do you think this criticism is justified?
Travers’ behaviour, from attempting to undermine my work as BME Convenor by publicising comments taken out of context is a clear example of the necessity of safe spaces. Robbie violated a safe space when he published my initial comments out of context. As a black woman, safe spaces are a form of self-preservation: for marginalised groups, it is a part of our survival.
What did you hope the outcome of the investigation would be?
I hoped the university would make students feel as if it were a safe place for all its students to thrive and learn. The outcome of this investigation has made me doubtful of this.
Image: Perry Jonsson