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Fortunately it’s women’s studies, not STEM: “I teach at Oxford” but hope “white, male” Oxford scientists don’t develop coronavirus vaccine

April 24, 2020

Emily Cousens

Photo: Oxford Brookes University


From Huffington Post contributor Emily Cousens:

I Teach At Oxford, But I Don’t Want It To Win The Coronavirus Vaccine Race

Oxford, that symbol of British excellence. Producing the finest minds in the world and, if this week’s news is anything to go by, leading the race to develop a vaccine against Coronavirus.

Surely I should be proud that the institution I have spent a decade studying and subsequently teaching at, could be the first to develop the vaccine?

Answer: No.

Let’s suppose that Oxford does develop the first vaccine. What happens next?…

The vaccine, developed by our finest brains, is ours. And it will be Britons who are prioritised for protection.

If there is enough vaccine to go round, the UK will be the world’s saviour.

We can’t have that.

We’ll forget the lessons that the pandemic has taught us so far: that the UK and the US are in fact not exceptions at the global stage. That we are not only vulnerable but can also afford to learn lessons from countries, regardless of whether we have a special relationship with them – such as South Korea. That being white, male and Oxford-educated may not be the only criteria for effective leadership (the countries whose responses have been most widely praised, Germany and New Zealand among others, are all led by women).

And come to think of it, shouldn’t China actually get the credit, not Britain?

Whilst China has faced lots of questions about it’s [sic] sharing of information politically, according to Laura Spinney: “The unprecedented speed of virus development so far is thanks in large part to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. China shared that sequence in early January, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.”

But, nooo. Those white male Brits at Oxford are actually motivated by (shudder) patriotism.

Coronavirus is a global epidemic. Yet, rather than motivating the UK to take a proud role at the global stage, as leaders like Macron have urged, the UK is increasingly resorting to patriotism in response.

This war-time rhetoric is useful in instilling a sense that this is a moment when individuals need to make sacrifices and put the country first. But this time, the enemy is not a nation. It is a microbe. So why do our collective solidarities end at the border?

The race is on and researchers at Oxford are doing vital, life-saving work. But races have winners and losers. If my university is the first to develop the vaccine, I’m worried that it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.

Horrors–British excellence.

Now you, dear reader, might think that when Dr. Cousens says, “I teach at Oxford,” she means that she, too, is a distinguished Oxford virologist who happens to be worried about what her colleagues are up to. After all, Oxford scientists have racked up four Nobel prizes over the years in various STEM fields.

Fear not. The program at Oxford in which Dr. Cousens teaches is actually “women’s studies.”

There, Dr. Cousens is part of a team teaching a core “feminist theory” and “feminist research” course for the master’s degree. Dr. Cousens’s contribution is “Sexualities.” Her reading list is a doozy, consisting of such texts as “Terrorist Assemblages: Homonationalism in Queer Times,” “Compulsory Able-Bodiness and Queer/Disabled Existence,” and Women With Mustaches and Men Without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity.

Although Dr. Cousens was an Oxford undergrad and master’s student, she got her Ph.D. at Oxford Brookes University, which is a public U down the road from its venerable namesake in the city of Oxford. She titled her doctoral dissertation “Feminism and the Politics of Vulnerability: Re-assessing Contributions from the Feminist ‘Second Wave.'” Here’s how she describes it:

My aim is to bring together reflections on vulnerability across the history of feminist theory. So rather than there being the ‘old’ understanding and a ‘new’, ‘contemporary’ and more sophisticated one, I intend to draw on writers who would typically be understood as unusual bedfellows, including Andrea Dworkin and Judith Butler. In doing so, I hope to theorise the term so that it can both attend to vulnerability as it is experienced through women’s (cissexual and transsexual) disproportionate liability to sexual violence whilst not reducing women to this liability or ignoring the way that experiences of vulnerability are both distributed along other axes: class, race and sexuality, and may even provide the basis for a non-violent political community.

Mmm, no wonder she doesn’t want any “white, male” Oxfordians to be working on that coronavirus vaccine.

Posted by Charlotte Allen

From → Uncategorized

  1. Margaret permalink

    Thanks Charlotte Allen for the analysis and deconstruction of the recent contributions of Emily Cousens. It is shocking that someone so bitter and full of hate is employed as a university lecturer. Cousens’s LinkedIn page claims she got the PhD in 2018. Have you found a copy of the thesis? It is not in Google Scholar, and there is no thesis by her in the Oxford Brookes on-line library. Does “Dr” Cousens actually have a PhD?

    • She’s listed in several places as having a doctorate–although I’ve never taken a look at her doctoral thesis. I don’t think she’d be allowed to teach a master’s-degree course if she didn’t have a doctorate (at least that’s the rule in the U.S.). It’s interesting, though, that the Oxford-Brooks library doesn’t have a copy. Perhaps its index isn’t up to date.

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