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May 28, 2018 | by  | in News Splash |
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Otago Students Protest Following Critic Cover Debacle

Otago University students are set to host a protest on Friday 26 May following the removal of hundreds of Critic magazines from stands last Monday.

The cover of the magazine showed a cartoon of a person menstruating, in line with the week’s theme of “periods”. The theme was suggested by the Otago Women’s+ Group in line with their Period Week events.

The magazines were removed from stands around the university following on order of the University Procter Dave Scott, following complaints from the Dunedin Hospital and Dunedin Public Library. A statement from the University said that the proctor assumed, “rightly or wrongly”, that copies of the magazine needed to be removed from all public areas, which included the university “as the University is also a public place, where non-students regularly pass through.”

The removal of the magazines has been criticized as “censorship” by Joel MacManus, Critic editor, as well as many prominent member of public. The response to the magazines’ removal has been widespread, with coverage from mainstream news outlets around New Zealand, and several open letters written to Otago University, including from former Critic editors.

The proctor has since apologised. A spokesperson from Otago University has said that the removal of the magazines was not censorship, but a “mistake” and was an “incorrect assumption by staff ”.

The Women’s+ Club has said that the aim of Period Week was to destigmatise and challenge the taboo of menstruation, and by destroying the magazines, “the University has played into the stigma that we are aiming to dispell.”

They added that “the media (and in previous Critic covers) constantly depicts bodies that are naked and/or sexualized, and this has never been deemed a cause for censorship.”

Many students have been outraged by the removal of the magazines, putting up hundreds of posters depicting the magazine cover with “censored” written across the front. However, the posters have also since been removed. A spokesperson from the University of Otago has said that they have no evidence that Property Services or Campus Watch were removing any posters.

Since the proctor’s apology, the aim of the protest has shifted to encompass wider concerns around student voice being heard on campus. Sinead Gill, co-founder of the Women’s+ Group, said, “the problem isn’t this one specific incident. The issue is that [the university] felt empowered to do this.” Laura Cairns, Women’s+ Group president, said “Time and time again the university has silenced us and ignored us… this is just the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

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