Union Society Secretary resigns amid allegations of sexism and racism

By Sophie Gregory 

Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 2.22pm on Thursday 7th December to reflect that David Van Egghen resigned his post in the aftermath of Palatinate’s initial revelation of his controversial public comments.

The recently elected Secretary of the Durham Union Society has resigned following revelations he had publicly defended an alleged white supremacist and made what could be construed as sexist comments about menstruation and sexual assault.

David Van Egghen, who was elected yesterday to minute all Union debates and private meetings but stepped down from the post this afternoon, previously commented on Facebook threads to defend white supremacist Richard Spencer, compare the menstrual cycle to self-defecation, and suggest that a woman’s choice of clothing could “provoke” rape.

Van Egghen created a poll in the ‘Young Liberal Society’ Facebook group on the 22nd January, asking members to vote on whether they “Like” or “Don’t like” Richard Spencer, the president of an American white supremacist think tank who was banned from visiting the UK for his extremist views.

Voting for “Like,” Van Egghen justified his choice by saying: “I agree with him on some issues, and find him funny, and I don’t have a reason not to really”.

When asked by another member to expand on his areas of agreement, he continued: “The issue of immigration mostly, and that by current trends white British (or American etc) people will be a minority in their countries fairly soon”.

He added: “I believe that if … white British people are made into a minority then British culture will not continue. And I think that is a bad thing.”

Meanwhile, on a thread in the same group from the 20th January, which referred to a Metro article about the suggestion that women wearing short skirts provoke rape, Van Egghen commented: “Its [sic] like leaving your door unlocked, you don’t provoke robbery but you make it more likely.”

Though he proceeded to emphasise that blame lies with the rapist, he added: “[It] depends on what the asker means by provoked exactly. If it means it raises the chances of it happening then yes it might well do.”

He also argued, on a separate thread about the destigmatisation of the menstrual cycle, that “both [menstruation and excreting] are bodily functions that are taboo for good reason”.

As Secretary, Van Egghen would have been responsible for “representing the views of the general membership and the General Committee to the Officers,” as outlined in the Union Society’s Constitution.

Hannah Speed, the Society’s previous Director of Debating, was one individual who voiced concerns with Van Egghen’s appointment.

Speed told Palatinate she “contacted the relevant individuals to raise concerns about this election and its consequences. I was part of the discussion regarding these comments at Standing Committee last academic year and was assured that David would not seek further office and would not be a prolific or visible face within the Union.”

She said: “I think I am obliged to speak out where I believe something is morally wrong and I would urge people who are as disappointed as I am to contact the DUS, who should be responsible for representing your views.

“Someone who shames women for menstruating, fundamentally fails to understand consent, and refuses to condemn white supremacy, should not be the face of the Union Society.”

Van Egghen won the election for the role of Secretary in a General Committee Election by 19 votes to 18.

When asked for comment by Palatinate, he said: “Those comments were made the best part of a year ago, I apologise for offence caused by my remarks.

“I have been democratically elected by the General Committee and would like to get on with the job I have been asked to do. I would like to reassure members that in future I will act in a manner more befitting the role of Secretary.”

Reflecting on Van Egghen’s resignation, Jack Gilmore, the President of the Union Society, said in a statement this afternoon: “We have taken this issue very seriously and decided that this is the right course of action.”

Photograph: Peter Bonnett

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