Lisa Keogh, a law student at Abertay, is being investigated by university authorities for comments she made at seminars. She says her fellow students complained after she said that women are born with female genitalia and that trans women should not compete in female mixed martial arts. For uttering such heresies, she even she could face expulsion – the university is reportedly deciding her fate later today. We spoke with Lisa before the ruling to find out more.
Mature student Lisa Keogh returned to full-time education, pursuing a law degree, in part because she wanted to set a good example for her children. She has two children, ages nine and seven, who are learning about birds and bees at school. Previously, she would never have considered this to be a controversial topic: ‘It’s biology, right?’ – But not now. Lisa, 29, faces disciplinary action from Abertay University in Dundee after saying during a discussion about transgender issues at an online seminar that women were born with female genitalia and that the difference in physical strength between men and women “ was a fact. ” The student, in her last year at the university, was reported to academic heads by her classmates and faces a formal investigation for alleged “offensive” and “discriminatory” comments. There are also suggestions that her behavior at the seminar was abusive, which Lisa denies. Like many of us struggling with what language is considered acceptable in this increasingly “awake” world, Lisa is puzzled about what we can say and where.
“I was chatting with another mother the other day whose little girl had come home from school saying they had been learning about how women have vaginas and men have penises. I said, ‘I don’t want to be mean, but I’m not sure we can say that now.’
‘How is it okay for a boy to learn that women have vaginas in school, but is it not okay for me to say it in a college seminar? Has no sense ‘. She is not alone in expressing her alarm.
Britain’s new head of equality, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, vowed this month to fight for women’s right to challenge transgender activism. The 66-year-old colleague said that women should have the right to question transgender identity without being abused, stigmatized or without risking losing their job.
Her comments couldn’t be more timely. For this week, in which Lisa took her final exam and delivered her dissertation, a panel at Abertay University met to decide whether she should be disciplined.
It is a serious problem. If the complaints are upheld, the university could withhold Lisa’s title.
“If that happens, all my hard work will have been in vain,” she says. I can’t even believe she’s in this position. I have kept my head down for four years.
“I have juggled my studies with taking care of my children. I have not been involved with any of the cliques. I haven’t even socialized because, with my responsibilities, I don’t have time. Now I’m in this ridiculous situation. ‘
Her crime? She having expressed opinions that he thought were mainstream and still believes are “sensible and true”.
“They asked me to define what a woman was and I said someone with a vagina. A biological fact, I thought, and still think, but apparently now it is unacceptable to say. Everything became a row. It became quite toxic. Because I had dared to question anything about transgender rights, a target was on my back. ‘
There were other complaints. In another part of the seminar, Lisa tried to offer an opinion related to sports, and whether trans women should be allowed to compete alongside biologically born women.
‘They shot me down. She was trying to make it clear that there are physical differences. Women tend to have smaller hands and smaller frames, and they are mostly not that strong.
“Before having my children, I trained as an auto mechanic. I completed an apprenticeship and was the only female in a garage of 12 male mechanics. I offered as evidence, because that is what we do as law students, my observation that he was not physically as strong as men. There were things he couldn’t lift. The center of gravity of a woman is in a different place.
“Not all women will be weaker, but it is simply not true that there is equality. We were talking about the issue, which is legally important, of the participation of trans women in women’s sports. I used evidence to support my arguments. Some of the others turned against me. They accused me of being a cis white woman who spoke from a privileged position. ‘ Cisgender, or cis, describes someone whose gender identity corresponds to that person’s sex at birth. While Lisa was shocked at how personal her seminar attacks were, she was not unduly upset. I didn’t log out or anything. People may not agree with me, but I didn’t think I would have said anything wrong. ‘ However, four weeks later, Lisa received an email from the university informing her that a formal complaint had been filed and that an investigation was underway. This email came out of nowhere with the title: URGENT ACTION NEEDED, in capital letters, and I couldn’t believe it when I read that I had been accused of making ‘offensive and discriminatory’ comments. I have never been offensive to anyone in my life. In fact, at first I didn’t know what they were accusing me of. She adds: ‘When I logged in for the meeting, I asked directly and the investigator said it would come to that. The penny took a while to drop. In fact, I felt sorry for her when she had to say, ‘Is it true that you said that women have vaginas?’ How silly to have to ask someone. Yes it’s correct. I said. She would say it again. I don’t think I made her job easier, because she could have laughed at me. ‘I still feel like it’s almost funny, or would be if it weren’t so serious, because it’s serious. This ridiculous situation could cost me my title, and there is also a more important point, and that is why I want to speak. If we are really at a point where saying that women have vaginas is offensive, then I think it is very disturbing. “There is an increasingly rigid intellectual orthodoxy in universities, and if you deviate from it, some students will say that your views have hurt them. Even if I am exonerated, that does not mean that free speech is alive and well. What people who have not gone through one of these investigations do not understand is that this process in itself is a punishment ”. Lisa is now in limbo. She has been under investigation since April 16 and the panel met on Tuesday, the day she appeared for her final exam. But instead of dismissing the complaints, they referred the matter to the Abertay student disciplinary council “to consider the alleged misconduct.”
The university initially declined to comment, but yesterday issued a statement suggesting that it was not just what was said at the seminar that was being investigated, but how it was said. Changing the goalposts, Lisa insists, who insists that they told her they were investigating her because of what she said, not how. And in any case, I keep it. Yes, things got heated. It was a debate. And they said things that seemed offensive to me. What about my right not to be offended? ‘ On Wednesday, she delivered her dissertation, on the subject of human rights. “The irony,” she says. Indeed. This week attorney Joanna Cherry QC, SNP MP for South West Edinburgh and Vice Chair of the Joint Lords and Commons Human Rights Committee, spoke on behalf of Lisa. She called the situation a “sham” and asked how it protected students’ rights to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights. Toby Young, secretary general of the Free Speech Union, which has been supporting Lisa, called the case “particularly egregious.” “Universities like Abertay often say they passionately believe in freedom of expression, but that must be balanced with the right of students to feel safe and not discriminated against. “There is very little ‘balance’ and student activists know it, so if someone challenges their awakened ideology, they file a complaint.” Ella’s family and friends, Lisa, all at sea in this awkward new world, are just as incredulous. My partner said, ‘What? He just can’t understand it. I’ve been trying to explain to her what I was supposed to do to her grandmother about hers, who is 80 years old. She says that she is very glad that she doesn’t have children to raise these days. My kids are too young to understand any of this, but what are we supposed to tell them? ‘ Lisa’s full account of what happened raises serious questions about the levels of “awakening” within British universities. There is growing conflict over transgender issues, often with more traditional feminist groups clashing with activists. This scenario, however, is different. Lisa insists that she does not belong to any feminist group at the university. ‘I am a mom. I go to classes. I run home to pick up the kids from school. I make tea. I could go to the gym. That’s. I’m not even on social media, so until this week I wasn’t fully aware of what it meant to be ‘awake’. ‘ Is she a feminist? She is not sure now. “I would always have said that she was her, but my type of feminism is not the one that was shown in that seminar. I don’t know what that was, but it wasn’t my feminism. ‘
Lisa never used to consider herself very academic and left school as soon as possible when she was offered her apprenticeship. She “had always liked cars and he was fascinated by how they worked.” Lisa became a fully skilled mechanic, but the job didn’t live up to her dream. “It was too much like hard work,” she admits, and she confesses that she found it both demanding, but not challenging enough. She stopped working in the garage when her children arrived and, for a time, she worked as a clerk in her partner’s dive business. It was he who encouraged her to think about studying full time. He said that she should do something that I am passionate about and that he was very interested in doing something worthwhile, like the law. He knew it would be a great undertaking, but once the kids were in school, he knew I could commit to a degree. ‘ For four years, she studied hard and without incident. Is it significant that she was not in what she calls “none of the cliques”? Possibly. ‘I would not say that I am a popular student. It wasn’t unpopular, but I probably only spoke to three or four other people in my course. ‘ During Covid, conferences and seminars moved online. Even then, Lisa was one of the quieter students. “Often she would just plug me in and not have the camera on. But the point of the seminars was that they were based on discussions, so she knew she would have to speak. ” The controversial seminar was on transgender issues. Opinions differed enormously from the beginning. The lecturer said something like ‘all men are rapists and we should lock them up after 6pm’. I was offended by this. I have two children and a partner who is a man. I don’t think all men are rapists. Of course they are not. ‘All of this has to do with rights. What about men’s rights not to be called rapists? Perhaps the speaker was making a provocative argument to stimulate discussion? “Maybe, but I get the impression she was serious,” says Lisa. That was the tone of the entire seminar. The other girls collaborated. She hated men. I was horrified. She says there were 12 or 13 students involved in the seminar, most of whom had their cameras on if they were speaking. “ They were all women, except for one who I think was a boy, but I’m afraid to say that now. She did not speak. Sometimes it sounds like Lisa is describing a rebellious mob, rather than sober law students. “What I really find terrifying is that they were talking about men as if they were guilty. We are law students. Above all, we believe in the principle of innocence until proven otherwise. Or should we. As soon as the group moved on to talking about transgender issues, she says, ‘Things got really hot. I made the point about sports; again, all my points were valid and based on things that I knew or had researched. They basically accused me of being transphobic. ” There was another altercation when she tried to discuss the idea of safe spaces. She started talking about women-only locker rooms, and one girl categorically said that trans people don’t do bad things. I thought this was naive at best, but also wrong. I cited a case where a rapist had been put into a women’s prison, but they shot me down and told me that she was a privileged cis white woman, and what did I know. ‘I found it offensive then, and I do now. Those students don’t know anything about my experience. If I say things that you disagree with, that’s fine. We don’t have to agree. But run and tell the teacher? And to put a gruesome twist on everything. You are wrong. ‘ Lisa says that she would have said the same thing even if there had been a transgender person in the seminar (that she knows about). “ The point is that since then I have read content online from transgender people and some have even contacted me to say that they support me. So this is crazy. Who do they think these girls are talking about? However, his complaint is not with the students. It is with the university. ‘The timing is terrible. It has been very stressful going through all of this during the last weeks of my career. I understand that they have to investigate, but for the love of God, if I received an email saying that someone had said that women have vaginas, therefore they should be punished, common sense would have prevailed. ‘ At a broader point, she says, the repercussions are terrifying. “Do we really want a society where we can’t even state a biological fact without being reprimanded?” she asks. The Abertay University defended the investigation last night: ‘To be clear, all the students