Interview: Esme Allman on Robbie Travers

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

20 replies on “Interview: Esme Allman on Robbie Travers”

Oh, the poor little snowflake.
Did she really make the comment “Black men are trash”? If so then she has no complaint. She must surely be aware of how political opponents are more than happy to snip comments out of context and twist them round to discredit the speaker and should have realised how her own crass comment could be misused.

Perhaps if she were to grow up and realise that, if she is going to be politically active, she must watch what she says, she might actually achieve something useful.

She didn’t say ‘Black men are trash’ in the manner that pathetic troll alleged. She said Black men who attack black women for dating white men are trash. There is a big difference. But right wing snowflakes like yourself who get outraged by everything don’t seem to be able to tell the difference.

Esme is a snowflake? Because she is defending herself against a comment she made being taken entirely out of context and circulated to a media that has perpetuated a lie all around the world? What would you have her do? If you do not understand what has clearly happened here you are clearly a very unreasonable, illogical person. Look up the word ‘context’ – it really defines the meaning of the words we say. The narrative isn’t what you want it to be and that is a shame for you I guess. Enjoy your ignorance, you seem a vile person.

Black women aren’t snowflakes. They don’t benefit from the white skin that makes inhabiting the western world such a doddle for some people.

She called Black Men Trash?! As a black woman, she needs to realise her comments only further white supremacy! My kids won’t be coming to Edinburgh with racists like Allman present.

“My comment was in response to the misogyny experienced by Serena Williams at the hands of black men online.” – i.e. trolls (who are black) who abuse Serena Williams (for falling in love with a white man) are trash. This is not a radical or racist statement.

I hope all the lads bolstering their egos by posting insults about a student on a student newspaper page are super proud of themselves.

Some people need to have a real good, long look at themselves.
As the white father of a mixed race student at Edinburgh myself, I can say whole heartedly that I support Ms Allman’s comments.
It seems more and more people are losing the actual ability to READ, but are becoming experts at reading what they want to see.

I find it shocking that the university has not disciplined Travers in some way – I don’t understand how deliberately misreporting someone’s words to the media in order to give the false impression that they are racist can be anything other than harassment. Well done to this young woman for conducting herself with such maturity and sticking to her principles in what must have been such a difficult and distressing time. She will flourish in life; racists and internet trolls will get their comeuppance.

Erm, because maybe Robbie Travers didn’t misrepresent them?? This is just her side of the story, and the university looked over all the evidence and exonerated Robbie. If he had done exactly what Esme Allman says he did above (i.e. smearing and harrassing her) he would have been sanctioned. Esme could have killed the story completely by reproducing her Facebook post here verbatim and also her complaint to the univerisity but she has chosen not to do this.

What a calm, dignified young lady. I agree, she’ll do well in life regardless of this. It is bizarre to me that some commentators refuse to do their own fact checking, even in this era of fake news. Continuing to reclaim her racist when the allegation against her is plainly untrue is the worst kind of sheepism.

Travers was a graceless troll. His threat was disingenuous, arrogant and menacing., But it was legal, and he could have been ignored. Of the two he comes out of this episode with a greater degree of discredit.

Allman overreacted, and it’s clear from the piece above why. The fluency with which she spouts ideas of “safe spaces” which have no currency in science, law, or wider culture outside of gender studies classes shows to me a increasing inability of the this newly emergent professional class to communicate with wider society. They are stuck in a safe space of their own devising, which can become a prison. Her response perhaps would have been different had she been informed by a wider set of points of political reference; for, example, freedom of speech. I don’t want to labour the point,as Travers was clearly the aggressor here, and her failings were very minor compared to his.

No doubt I shouldn’t feed this stuff but this is the institution where I work having this battle in public.
Anyway, I don’t think this is true of all comments above by a long chalk but some comments seem totally disconnected from – and uninformed by – the remarks made by Esme herself.
Other comments may be based on Esme’s own remarks but then choose to concentrate on picking through her choice of words and criticising her vocabulary. Is ‘fluency’ a mark of dishonour or questionable judgement ? I think not. What is the correct degree of ‘reaction’ that Esme should exhibit given what she has undergone – and very publicly to boot? I would suggest: a very deep reaction of shock might be natural for anyone.
I note cries of ‘snowflake’ from anonymous / pseudonymous posters – no irony there then.

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