Sexual harassment meeting – ‘the first step in a long journey’

Andrea Szász shares the general feedback of the meeting and talks to the SU President who explains what the aims of this ‘town hall’ were.

All society and sport clubs’ executives were invited on very short notice – less than 24 hours – for a general meeting “to discuss encouraging safe and respectful behaviour on our campus” regarding the sexual harassment incidents happening since the beginning of this term. 

Bryn Morris who is the Registrar and Secretary of the University was the speaker at this event. He regarded executives and SU staff members as “influencers in our community” who can promote the culture of mutual respect. 

Cara Kane, the president of the Comic book society strongly states her opinion about this. She said: “What I believe they were doing with that specific meeting was that they tried to make us not feel like a member of the student body. Everybody who was there was an executive, a person in a position of authority. So we weren’t meant to be looking at it as if we could be potential victims, but as people to whom others can come to. But that is an issue in itself because we are not an extension of the faculty, we are still students.” 

We had almost a full house at the meeting- people still coming in. 

In the email they said: “It is really important that the student’s voice is a big part of this discussion as what comes out of this meeting will inform the University’s action on this issue.” However, he spent about 40 minutes reassuring us about the university’s policies and telling us that they don’t accept any kind of harassment. Normally, the consequences for serious offences involve students being expelled, moved out of university accommodation or in extreme cases the police would be notified. 

He made a point about being an active bystander and calling out disrespectful behaviour. He encouraged everyone to report inappropriate behaviour that is happening either to ourselves or to others and this can be done anonymously. But where can we report it? How do we report? This critical information wasn’t provided and left us wondering how do we reach out, if needed. 

“The whole meeting felt like a paper tiger- it was there just to prove that they are trying to do something but they didn’t really have anything behind it.”

Cameron Thrower

Even though the meeting was supposed to be dedicated to listening to students’ queries and helping out our staff members only 20 minutes were actually given for questions. When the hour was over the meeting was quickly wrapped up regardless of the fact many people still had questions. His answers were very strategic and oversimplified.

When asked what the problem areas were, the answer was that the broader view is more important and not the specific incidents, adding that “victims are never to blame”. Cameron Thrower, who is the President of the Anime and Manga society believes this: “felt as a spit in the face of people who know people who’ve been through things like that.”

We were and still are very aware of the horrific incidents that happened, about not one, but more sexual assaults, discrimination and harassment happening in a very short period of time. However, what did the university do about it? How did they face the problem? More importantly, what are they doing to prevent this from happening again? 

According to Mr Morris, the University and Students’ Union are starting to tackle these problems by offering safety on our campuses by deploying additional security officers, introducing an enhanced policy about students being able to leave SU venues on their own two feet, the night ninja service being reintroduced and by asking for Angela in SU venues if an individual believes they are in a sticky situation.

Personally, this meeting seemed to be more about the university seeking opinions and help from students and staff members rather than reassuring and explaining the measures they’re taking to deal with this and what were the serious consequences perpetrators faced. It all seemed a bit unorganised and desperate. 

But I’m not the only one feeling this way. Cameron said: “The whole meeting felt like a paper tiger- it was there just to prove that they are trying to do something but they didn’t really have anything behind it.”

“All round it was just disappointing, and I don’t take great pleasure in saying that. I’m just here like ‘You’re meant to be the body that helps the students’ but you have got nothing?! Or you say you have zero tolerance policy, but your actions show otherwise because you do tolerate to a certain extent.”

“What is important to highlight is, that this has never been done before”

SU President, Tancrede Chartier

Tancrede Chartier who is the Students’ Union’s President said: “It is disappointing to hear that students didn’t understand the point the university was trying to put across.” 

According to him the aim of this meeting was to “make it very clear to students and to staff that we are one community.”

This meeting, according to the SU, was the first step in a very long journey in battling sexual harassment and discrimination. “What we wanted was students coming together and committing to what we actually want to see at our university.” 

Since then the SU organized a campaign called It Ends Now, which happened on Monday, 12thof November. This campaign was held to give students the tools to promote consent, respectful behaviour and condemn sexual assault. They called out saying: “We ask you to stand with us in solidarity and pledge that we all commit to ensuring that this university is a place free from sexual harassment.”

As the SU president said: “What is important to highlight is, that this has never been done before”

“The reasons we organized the town hall was because we wanted to show that we wanted a community response. We wanted to showcase very vividly and rapidly all the actions that we’ve put together. 

“By no means do we say that it was perfect, but we took feedback from students repeatedly and from that feedback we actually actioned.” 

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