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11KBW barrister returns to Oxford Graduate Students’ Dinner where she was groped by academic

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Harini Iyengar speaks out 20 years later

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A barrister at a top commercial set has returned to her former university for a college dinner, to speak out against a senior professor who groped her 20 years earlier at the very same event.

Addressing the crowd at Brasenose College’s Graduate Students’ Dinner last night, Harini Iyengar revealed that she had been physically harrassed at the same event two decades previously, and because of this “culture” she did not return to the elite university for 15 years after she graduated.

Following schooling in Manchester — interestingly alongside Supreme Court justice Lady Hale’s daughter — Iyengar studied law at Brasenose College in the nineties and was then called to the bar in 1999.

Nearly 20 years later, the big name barrister is on the top of her game. She is a well-respected employment, equality and education lawyer at 11KBW — a leading commercial chambers where average earnings per barrister are believed to be around £350,000 — and is campaigning to be elected for the Women’s Equality Party in next month’s Greater London Assembly election.

Yesterday, she headed back to her university to talk politics, and to share her experience of life as a female law student at the college. She recalled:

[A]t the Graduate Students’ Dinner nearly 20 years ago… during the after dinner speech by the guest speaker, the senior male professor who was sitting next to me three times placed his hand on my upper left thigh. When I went to [report the incident, my tutor] said, ‘I think you are very wise not to want to rock the boat.’

Iyengar, who admitted that she “did not feel welcome” at the world-class college, also shined a light on the problems facing female students nowadays. She explained:

There are still problems concerning sexual harassment at Oxford, and about women’s equality generally… Why do young women who come in with excellent A level results persistently do worse in their degree results at Oxford? Why do we still have so few senior women academics at Oxford, and at Brasenose? I believe it is to do with institutional culture in the university and in the college.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that transcends student circles and is particularly eminent in the legal profession. Many lawyers, she said, are “unhappy and frustrated about inequalities which women still face”.

On a more positive note, the Bachelor of Civil Laws graduate spoke fondly of the First 100 Years Project — a platform to showcase and applaud how far the gender equality movement has come in the 100 years following the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, the law which allowed women to enter the legal profession. The project, she commented, “gives us a space in which we can be proud of the women who went before us”.