Oxford University

Oxford is failing survivors of sexual violence

Oxford is failing survivors of sexual violence

By now, many of us have read the article ‘I Was Raped At Oxford University. Police Pressured Me Into Dropping Charges’, written by an Oxford student under the pseudonym Maria Marcello. The first post on a new blog, it details the author’s experience of being raped by someone in her college, and the process of reporting the incident. It raises several issues, including the way Oxfordshire police handled the case, which included a receptionist who “insisted on me giving details in front of everybody in the waiting room”. However, another huge problem is evident in Maria’s experience: the University and colleges are failing to adequately respond to sexual violence claims.

The collegiate system should make it easier to be heard. In other universities, the central authority which serves thousands of students is the only place to turn, whereas here we have staff who are there to help a few hundred people exclusively. In theory, one might hope that this means they have plenty of time to support students. In practice, however, colleges are inconsistent in the ways they handle sexual violence complaints. In Maria’s case, they proved unhelpful. In her post, she asserts: “My Oxford college, when I spoke to its professional welfare staff, largely ignored me; the guy who raped me received a minor reprimand and no further repercussions.” I spoke to her over email to find out more, and she told me: “It happened midway through Michaelmas (end of 5th I think), I spoke to welfare several times in the rest of that term and during Hilary. They basically said there wasn’t anything they could do and to not put myself in situations where I was near him.” It would seem from this that colleges are practically able to ignore complainants, and, even worse, are placing the onus on victims to remove themselves from shared spaces when their attacker is present. When the attacker is at the same college, this turns what should be a safe-haven into a threatening place to be. Your college should be somewhere you can live, eat, go to the library, and socialise without feeling like you have to leave when someone else enters the room. Maria described to me several occasions when she had been unable to use college facilities or socialise due to her attacker’s presence. “People were obviously left with the choice of hanging around with him or hanging around with me, and without me being able to explain the situation to them (I barely told anybody about this) they generally chose hanging around with him (mainly because I left).”

[caption id="attachment_59338" align="alignright" width="335"]blog Maria’s original blogpost, which has now garnered over 11,000 hits[/caption]

The college’s response was poor, and Maria even suspects that they saw no reason to intervene since her academic work was still on track. “I think Oxford generally has a problem with being too work-oriented.” It is truly disheartening that an establishment with a duty of care seems to think this only applies to looking after their students’ grades. Colleges ought to be concerned with the safety, health (mental and physical), and general wellbeing of everyone in the college community. Sadly, Maria’s story is not an anomaly. A quick scroll through OUSU’s It Happens Here Tumblr page will throw up several similar examples. A common theme seems to be that college staff simply do not know how to proceed. One anonymous contributor says that, while at first “people who mattered believed me and wanted to help”, the process of reporting a rape to college came to very little, and they “had no specific guidelines on how to deal with sexual violence or post-traumatic stress disorder”. Like Maria, this survivor just wanted to feel safe in their college’s communal areas, but there was no process set in place.

It is imperative that college authorities are ready to deal with sexual violence cases. According to an NUS survey, 25 per cent of female students experience sexual assault in their time at university. That’s a huge number, and doesn’t even take people who aren’t women into account. It is therefore a severe oversight for colleges not to know how to respond. Now, I want to make it clear that I do not agree with handing all responsibility for punishing an attacker over to a place of education. The police and the courts have to play their role, and I will leave it to someone better-informed to detail the failures of the criminal justice system. Furthermore, if we allow universities or colleges to make rulings on these cases, we could end up with a mess like we’ve seen in the American system, where 76 colleges are under investigation for mishandling sexual violence complaints. These powerful establishments have all too often decided to protect their own reputation by sweeping claims under the carpet at the expense of survivors. At Columbia, activists resorted to writing the names of alleged rapists on the walls of bathrooms, so exasperated were they by the university’s ineffectual methods.

[caption id="attachment_59339" align="alignleft" width="220"]PHOTO / David Masters on Flickr PHOTO / David Masters on Flickr[/caption]

So what can we do? Well, on a university level, things are already being done. Speaking in response to Maria’s post, Eden Tanner, Graduate Women’s Officer said: “OUSU has been working closely with the University on a revised Harassment Policy, which will hopefully come into force during Michaelmas term. This is no way mitigates the terrible experience of this student, but our hope is that the revised policy will provide a stronger and more reliable framework for supporting survivors of sexual violence in future.” This is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Not only does it set the standard for how sexual violence should be treated within the University, but for such a well-known establishment as Oxford to concede a change in policy could be significant on a national scale.

This does not, however, solve all problems instantly. The individual harassment policies of colleges are a patchwork of varying standards, confusing clauses and sometimes total absence of anything addressing sexual violence. WomCam now has a harassment working group, which aims to change college policies one at a time. Caitlin Tickell is the group’s creator, and she “was utterly appalled by the college response to Maria’s case”. She goes on to say: “It has to be impressed to the colleges and the University as a whole that the handling of this case was completely unacceptable and contributes to a culture where perpetrators of rape can face little-to-no repercussions, I really hope that the college in question conducts an investigation into this case. Many colleges have inadequate harassment policies, and few have specific policies for sexual violence, this is something that the WomCam harassment working group is planning to tackle head on next year.” Not only should colleges have clear policies in place, but the process of reporting an incident of sexual violence should be obvious to staff and students alike.

We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to survivors of sexual violence, whose university experience has turned into a constant struggle to evade their attackers. We cannot allow our University or our colleges to shrug their shoulders and say “there’s nothing we can do”. We cannot stay silent and let perpetrators of sexual violence think they can get away with their actions.

UPDATED: Union President Ben Sullivan bailed without charge

UPDATED: Union President Ben Sullivan bailed without charge

UPDATED – 20.05: Sullivan has been released on bail until 18th June. He was not charged.

Oxford Union President Ben Sullivan has been arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted rape.

The 21-year-old History and Politics student was arrested and taken to a local police station for questioning early this morning.

Christ Church confirmed that a “Junior Member of [the college] has been arrested”. Students at the college have been told to be “extremely cautious about talking to… the media”.

The Union has not yet issued a statement on the matter. No criminal charges against Sullivan have been confirmed.

The arrest is the latest event in a series of disasters that have rocked the Union in recent weeks, including controversy over Sullivan’s use of Union money for legal expenses and the resignation of Librarian Kostas Chryssanthopoulos on Sunday.

The President used the funding for legal proceedings against The Tab, but the decision for this money to be provided by the society was reversed at a meeting of Standing Committee early last week.

On Thursday night Chryssanthopoulos accused the president of “shutting down debate” and lying to members before walking out of the weekly debate.

Sullivan had arranged to hold an open meeting with Union members to “discuss the events of the past week” at 3pm on Thursday.

Union insiders have confirmed that the event has been cancelled.

The Union had also planned to host its “Summer Drinks Social” this evening, which has now been postponed to a future date.

Sullivan was elected unopposed to the position of President in Michaelmas Term this year.

There is no provision in the Union rules for the immediate removal of a President from office in the event that they are arrested by the police.

However, should they be charged with a criminal offence “liable to bring the society into disrepute”, the Standing Committee has the power to suspend the President “at its discretion until the outcome of the full trial of the charges brought”.

There is no possibility for an appeal against suspension.

Is the Oxford Music course still relevant?

Is the Oxford Music course still relevant?

Lewis Coenen-Rowe

It is perhaps our fear of irrelevance that leads music students to the kind of self-deprecating humour usually focussed on how ‘out of touch’ the Oxford music course is. I used to think so but now I’m not sure this is the problem it is made out to be.  If by relevance we mean that the course should reflect the statistical music preferences of the country than the course is far from relevant, being based around ‘classical’ music. But isn’t the assumption that the course should be doing this rather presumptuous? Pop, rock, dance, hip-hop, all of these are doing just fine without the intervention of Oxford music graduates to tell them how they should be doing it. In fact, the Oxford syllabus is not all that different from the music departments of most English universities, most of which have a similar preference. Stressing the out-of-touchness of the Oxford course can feel like a thinly disguised assertion of an Oxfordian superiority that ignores our similarity to other faculties and our dependence on these external influences. We’re in touch with them, you might say.

I would further add that we are all ‘out of touch’ in some way when it comes to music – a heavy metal fan is unlikely to be knowledgeable about K-pop, and a listener of Radio 3 is unlikely to pay much regard to Algerian Rai singers. The assumption that music can be reduced to what is relevant and what is not does it a disservice, because being out of touch is really a demonstration of diversity. To claim to cover what is ‘relevant’ is to make a dangerous and restrictive value judgement; instead we should accept our partial perspectives rather than claiming some kind of superiority or dominance (something universities are often in danger of doing).  No, the Oxford course is not relevant to everyone but neither is any music, and this is exactly how it should be.

Edward Wren

My worry is that some think the music course isn’t relevant because its object of study, classical music, appears to be reaching a lower proportion of younger people in Britain today than in previous generations. I would be the last person to invoke the moralistic argument that art has lost its way, or any other such nonsense. On the other hand, I would like to recognise that though the Oxford music course concerns itself with the same repertoire that can be found in the haughty practices of concert hall music-making, this repertoire is still valuable to a substantial audience, and continues to present us with interesting problems.

In fact, this is where the Oxford music course excels. Students are expected to learn more about the Western musical canon, but its academic centrality is also appropriately challenged. This is achieved by studying anti-canonical subject matter, including medieval music, women composers and hip-hop. The ‘Musical Thought and Scholarship’ module, colloquially known as MTS, is equally helpful in this regard, which involves critiquing classical music’s public institutions, such as the concert hall and the opera house.

I would make changes to my course if I could, no question. But I defend its core focus of the ‘art tradition’, since as music students we are presented with numerous opportunities to critically re-examine what such a term might once have meant, or what it might mean today. Though somewhat behind literary studies, modern musicology has developed a rich critical theory, and it seems to have been proven that the field is capable of acquiring a progressive bent. Ultimately, the course is relevant because it has preserved an exciting musical repertoire, tempered by generous amounts of self-scrutiny. What fun!

Al Gore urges students to look to future

Al Gore urges students to look to future

Former US Vice President, Al Gore, spoke to over 800 people at Exam Schools last Thursday in an event hosted by the Oxford Martin School. The heavily oversubscribed event filled both the North and South Schools, the latter of which served as an overflow room  where a large screen was put up to show the talk and Q&A session.

Former Vice-President Gore’s talk, entitled ‘The future: six drivers of global change’, focused on topics including corporate influence on American politics. Gore suggested a solution to this problem, saying, “It can change…The internet means people can engage even more in democracy. But it requires a decision by individuals to get engaged.”

As expected, he also discussed the issue of climate change, highlighting how some of the predictions in his 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth such as flooding in New York have come to pass much sooner than even he thought they would.

He compared the fight against deniers of climate change to the fight against racial discrimination and homophobia, stating that where choices were between right and wrong, right will win in the end.

The Oxford Martin School commented that Gore, “called upon younger generations to engage with politics to create a future worthy of them.” Professor Ian Goldin, Director of the school, stated: “Al Gore has done more than anyone else to raise awareness on climate change. He is a visionary…[and] should inspire all of us. ”

Gore’s speech was warmly received by many students. Second year Lincoln historian Richard Black commented, “It was a very engaging talk [that] brought to the fore the ways in which scientific and technological advances would really dominate our lives.”

Jonathan Hunter, also a 2nd year historian added: “Gore is a truly inspirational figure, outlining the problems which the world faces today- and more importantly, urging us to solve them!”

The Oxford Martin School consists of a group of 300 scholars and was founded in 2005. Its focus is on future challenges and only accepts scholars who it believes “will make a tangible difference to…today’s significant global challenges.”

Gore, 65, was Vice President of the United States from 1993-2001 under Bill Clinton. He famously lost the 2000 US Presidential election to George W Bush, a result only confirmed after losing a contentious Supreme Court case over a Florida recount.   The Tennessee politician’s famous book and film, An Inconvenient Truth, won a Grammy Award and Academy Award respectively. He is also the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a graduate of Harvard University.

Two unsuccessful US presidential candidates have now visited Oxford in two years, after John McCain spoke at the Oxford Union last Michaelmas.

Only four Uni departments pay full living wage

Only four Uni departments pay full living wage

It was announced this week that only four University departments have been recognised as paying all their employees the national Living Wage, two years after OUSU began campaigning on the issue.

The departments that pay all of their affiliated staff at least £7.45 an hour were presented with giant thank you cards by the Oxford Living Wage Campaign last Monday.

The vast majority of undergraduate and graduate departments, sub-departments, and faculties did not receive any recognition. This includes particularly large or prominent institutions such as the Saïd Business School and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art.

The OUSU-led campaign was one of several around the country designed to kick off National Living Wage Week on Monday.

Although University policy ensures that all of its direct employees are paid a Living Wage, the campaign only recognised departments known not to be employing subcontracted cleaners at a lower rate.

The four Departments that received OUSU recognition were those of Biochemistry, Mathematics, Physics and the Blavatnik School of Government. On Monday afternoon, the campaign, headed by students Ruth Meredith and Andrew Gray, gave each of these departments a card signed by many different students and staff from departments and colleges around the University that support the campaign and their stance.

Despite the low numbers, OUSU Vice-President for Charities and Communities Dan Tomlinson was enthusiastic about the campaign and its importance:

“It is very important to celebrate those departments that have recognized the need for the Living Wage here in Oxford, where the cost of living and level of child poverty is so high”

He added that he was, “thrilled” by the number of department members who signed the cards and expressed pride in their department for stepping up and taking a stance against poverty pay. Over forty students took part in the presentations.

The Student Union itself came under fire earlier in the year, after it was discovered that a cleaner working in its building was paid 15 per cent less than the Living Wage. Although the cleaner was subcontracted by the University, then OUSU President-elect Tom Rutland stated he would:

“be working to spread the living wage as per the pledge I, and all the other sabbatical candidates, undertook as part of the hustings.”

When asked what the Student Union had done to rectify the situation, Tomlinson commented:

“Every member of staff that OUSU employs is paid a Living Wage. The University indirectly employs cleaners for a large number of University buildings, including our own, through a subcontractor and I have raised the issue of the Living Wage for these cleaners with University staff members. I am hopeful that when the University’s contract is renegotiated the people that clean the OUSU building will be paid the Living Wage.”

The Living Wage will be increased to £7.65 nationally in six months time everywhere but in London, which is at £8.80 to reflect the greater costs of living in the capital. This is an increase of 20p from the previous Living Wage and is more than a pound higher than the current legal minimum wage for those 21 and over, which is £6.31.

The  campaign, has received the support of more than 400 companies and charities nationwide, such as Oxfam, KPMG, and Barclays.

The Oxford campaign was founded in 2006 by a group of students from Balliol and received OUSU affiliation in 2011. It also gained attention that year by protesting at Oxford’s three Tesco’s stores in an attempt to encourage a change in their wage policies.

The national movement has gained some high-profile political supporters, such as Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and London mayor Boris Johnson. The former Oxford Union President said of the campaign earlier this week that its progress is “good for London’s productivity and growth” and that he finds it “extremely heartening to see major new companies signed up this year”.

Pembroke Rugby Club suspended after misogyny scandal

Pembroke Rugby Club suspended after misogyny scandal

The captain of the Pembroke rugby team has stepped down in the wake of the ‘Free Pussy’ scandal, after his team was relegated to Division 3 with immediate effect by the Oxford University Rugby Football Union.

In a meeting last night, the JCR was told that the OURFU had banned the Pembroke team from competing in the first round of the league season. They will be eligible to compete again in sixth week.

In a statement, the OURFU also called for a full re-election of the College Rugby Committee and recommended: “For the remainder of the academic year, the social side of PCRFC [should be] disbanded.”

This revelation comes after a media storm engulfed the college in the wake of the email that encouraged players to “pick” a fresher as a date and to contaminate their drink with “a substance of [their] choice”.

Addressing the JCR, the departing captain stated: “This will be a turning point for the club. It’s highlighted parts of our culture that are completely wrong and just entirely inexcusable.”

Explaining his decision to resign, he stated that he felt that he had become “inextricably linked” to the recent events: “I could have shown greater leadership and better judgement in reacting more quickly to the offensive phrases in the email. I reacted too slowly. In the longer term I will try my hardest to rid PCRFC of any elements of this culture that we find still reside in the club.”

The captain also sought to explain how the team sought to improve: “We are fully engaging in sexual consent and ‘good lad’ workshops – in fact we’ve already got one lined up for this Tuesday, I’m sure there’ll be a really good attendance. These events can’t be seen as a miracle solution […] but they will give us a good base.”

He added: “As a self-imposed measure, there will be no socials or crew dates.”

The former captain also stressed that this in no way represented him “running away from the problem”: “I’m still totally committed to helping other, very capable senior members in our combined effort to resolve these issues we are facing and turn around the image and the club culture.”

Sanctions imposed by OURFU have so far been directed at the Pembroke team as whole, while disciplinary actions against individuals are being conducted by the College. However, the organisation emphasised: “OURFU reserve the right to take further action once the college has concluded its disciplinary procedure.”

A Pembroke JCR statement issued earlier in the week said: “We fear that the rugby committee do not seem to have grasped the seriousness of their offences, and will shrug this off as an overreaction of a female-led JCR committee. However, it is to the great credit of Pembroke that so many people have found the email completely unacceptable, and have spoken against it.”

With the theme of the crew-date set as “villains”, PCRFC members were told to “be as clandestine as possible in [their] deed”. One student was asked to bring a positive pregnancy test. The outcry that followed the release of the email provoked the cancellation of the crew-date and continued scrutiny of other events involving Pembroke sports teams.

Students show support for academics’ strike

Students show support for academics’ strike

The town’s students were out in force today to express their support for academic staff on strike for better pay and conditions.

Protestors assembled a picket line outside the Examination Schools, as well as staging a sit in inside the building itself, in order to express support for members of unions UCU, Unison and Unite on strike today.

Academic staff were on strike over their suggested pay rise this year of 1%, which, with inflation at 3%, would effectively mean a pay cut.

Around 100 people attended the protest, including students from Ruskin College, and OUSU President Tom Rutland.

Protestors held placards and shouted chants at passers by, including, “No ifs, no buts no education cuts”, and, “No fee hike, we support the strike”.

At an OUSU meeting last night, council had passed a motion to support to the strike, with 45 votes in support of the motion, 5 voting against the motion, and a further 15 abstentions.

An amendment to the motion mandated Rutland to email all students, encouraging them to attend the protest and abandon lecture halls.

Those in favour of the motion spoke of the need to incentivise highly skilled academics to stay in the field, and the important role academia plays in wider society.

Sarah Pine, OUSU Women’s Officer, cited the gender pay gap as a reason to support the strike, which, at 22% in academic fields, is higher than in the economy as a whole.

However, some questioned the wisdom of showing support for the strike. Jack Matthews, of University College, said that UCU had been inconsistent in showing solidarity when the student body needed support.

Nathan Akehurst, who proposed the motion, said at the protest, “Staff have put up with the longest sustained paycuts since World War Two. They have lost 13% of their salary in the last five years, so are expected to take an average pay cut of 900 pounds per member of staff despite the fact that the university is 53 million pounds in the black – it can easily afford not to cut.

“So I’m here to stand up for my staff and students as well because underpaid, overworked staff don’t make good tutors.”

Anya Metzer, Wadham JCR President, said she was pleased with the turn out, commenting, “I think given how intense Oxford is, people don’t always have time for the things they want to do outside of academic commitments, a lot of people have turned up to show their support.”

However, some students have been less sympathetic to those on strike.

Gabriel Asman, a Somerville JCR member, commented, “I might (grudgingly) accept losing lectures because of a lecturer, who makes more then my parents combined , going on strike (because I understand that people have this right), but to go on “strike” myself DESPITE the lecturer not doing so is just a new level of crazy.”

Anu Oyefesobi, another Somerville student, shared this view, saying, “To be frank, I don’t think you can have it all; you can’t condemn the Vice Chancellor’s statement about higher uni fees and then also say that lecturers should be paid more. Someone has to take a loss.”

Picture credit: Ethan Freedman

Papua protest at Exam Schools

Papua protest at Exam Schools

The University Exam Schools were the site of protest today, as members of the ‘Free Papua Movement’ campaigned against the University’s invitation of the Indonesian Vice President to deliver a lecture in the venue. Doctor Boediono had been invited to speak on the subject of “Transforming Indonesia: the challenges of good governance and Economic Development.”

Campaigners for the movement – an organisation aiming for the overthrow of the Indonesian government in West Papua – brandished banners and the Morning Star flag at the main entrance to the Schools. The West Papua region, part of the island of New Guinea, was annexed by Indonesia in 1963.

Serogo Tabuni, leader of the campaign group and former resident of West Papua said: “Indonesia has illegally occupied West Papua for fifty years, and murder, torture and intimidation is still going on there to this day [...] There is no democracy  and no journalism in West Papua, whilst in Indonesia there is. Even the Red Cross , even Amnesty are banned.”

He added: “we will never give up our fight for self-determination from the colonialism of Indonesia.”

Tabuni referred also to the support the campaign has gained from public figures including the Lord Mayor of Oxford and Richard Harries, the former Bishop of Oxford.

Lauren Horswell, an activist for the Free Papua Movement, commented: “the situation in West Papua is horrendous [...] the university welcoming the Vice President of Indonesia to speak on good governance is ironic.”

Asked what her message would be to the University, she added: “they should think about the people they invite to speak, and the messages that they’re allowing them to bring, and ask them to take into account some different perspectives.”

“I don’t have a problem with the Vice President being given a platform to speak, but campaigns such as this one should be given a platform also.”

Charlie Silver, first year chemist at Queen’s commented: “I had no awareness of what’s occurring in West Papua, but it seems like a legitimate claim.”

He added: “It would be interesting to read more and see if the protestors have a valid point in their case.”

Dr Boediono’s lecture formed part of a programme co-hosted by the University’s Blavatnik School of Government.

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