Oxford University

Protest has shamed OUSU, not the Union

Protest has shamed OUSU, not the Union

As the visit of Marine le Pen to the Union fades into the relative distance, the ideologies of the no-platformers, claiming to act on our behalf through OUSU, must continue to be challenged. It is outdated, indefensible and hypocritical- even more so due to the fact it is espoused in all our names.

The ineffectiveness of no-platform policies at stopping ideologies they dislike should be fairly clear. They did nothing to stop the rise of the BNP in the 2010 European elections. For all that is made of the 3,000 membership requests that followed Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time, much more should be made of how many people surely watched the show and realised that the BNP was not a legitimate party of protest. Louis Brandeis was right to call sunlight the best disinfectant; it is only through exposing fascism for what it is – for giving it a platform from which to drown in its own poison – that we destroy this narrative with a healthy dose of truth.

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Oxford downplays A-level panic

Oxford downplays A-level panic

The University of Oxford has denied that the “provisional” nature of August A-level results mean that it should not longer use them to finalise course places.

The denial comes after OCR, one of Britain’s biggest exam boards, admitted that results should “not be viewed as finalised” before re-marking has been completed in late October, almost a month after the beginning of Michaelmas term.

The exam board’s comments have been made despite the standard practice of allocating places on the basis of August grades, which OCR now insist should be viewed as “provisional” rather than final.

A statement from the university press office denied that the lateness  that “the University has never denied anyone a place at Oxford as a result of an exam board error,” while admitting that “In a very small number of cases the delay in re-marking may result in candidates having to defer entry.”

Alison Rogers, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Educational Assessors, was critical of OCR’s admission, saying: “It is always disappointing to hear of cases where students’ university chances are disrupted by human error in the marking of examinations and we should all be concerned about any erosion in public and schools’ confidence in the marking of A-levels and GCSEs.

“Standards in our qualification system must be seen to be robust, rigorous and able to stand up to the highest scrutiny and this must begin with the marking of examination scripts.”

University stops registering students to vote automatically

University stops registering students to vote automatically

Students are no longer automatically registered to vote by the University, it has emerged.

The information was revealed in a small note in a student news bulletin from the University on October 20th and a number of JCR Presidents have warned their JCRs.

A University spokesperson said: “The change has taken place as a result of a change in the law designed to reduce electoral fraud. Under the new system, people who are registering need to provide a few more details to identify themselves. The new process will also gives people the option to register online for the first time.” 

The spokesperson explained that colleges will be “forwarding Oxford City Council’s formal invitation to register”, saying:

“These invitations will arrive in  individual student pigeon holes either this week or early next. Students should then be able to follow the instructions to register themselves online. It is a simple process which should take no more than five minutes and should give students ample opportunity to register to vote.”

OUSU President Louis Trup told the OxStu:  “Ruth (our Vice-President for Charities and Community) and I have been working on ensuring students know about the changes to voter registration. We have met with representatives of the Council, Brookes Student Union and Ruskin Student Union to find ways of making sure that all students in Oxford know about these changes. This lead to there being a stall at OUSU Freshers’ Fair dedicated to  voter registration.

“We are also working with Bart Ashton, Chairman of the Domestic Bursars’ Committee, to ensure that college authorities know about the changes and make it as easy as possible for students to register to vote. We will soon be launching a large campaign aiming to inform every student about how to register so look out for that!”

Trup added: “On November 3rd, I will be presenting to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Students on this issue.I intend to highlight how the changes to voter registration will affect students and the ways in which students should be informed of these changes.”

Duke of Cambridge opens Oxford China Centre

Duke of Cambridge opens Oxford China Centre

Prince William paid a visit to Oxford on the 8th of September to formally open the Dickson Poon University of Oxford China Centre building.

The ceremony took place hours after an announcement from Kensington Palace that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting her second child. She was unable to attend due to acute morning sickness.

Prince William met with students, members of staff, and friends of St. Hugh’s, as well as the donors and architects behind the project, before being given a tour of the new building. He also took part in the traditional Chinese ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open the centre, before a plaque was unveiled bearing the names of the Duke and Duchess. 

The building, situated in the grounds of St. Hugh’s College, cost a total of £21m to build, £10m of which was donated by Mr Dickson Poon CBE, after whom the building is named. It features a one-hundred seat lecture theatre, dining area and a range of conference and seminar facilities, as well as 63 ensuite bedrooms for the use of St Hugh’s students. Also included is a library set to house books from the Bodleian Library’s China Collection.

Prince William said at opening: “’The China Centre is an enormous achievement. It stands on the foundations of many centuries of learning in the University of Oxford about China, and it marks a significant leap forward.

“The strength and creativity of the partnership between the University and St Hugh’s provides a solid foundation for the creation of what has the potential to become the foremost place of study about China in the world.”

“Learning from and learning about China has never been more important than it is now. China is one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Its long history, customs and artistic and technological ingenuity have endured as a source of fascination and wonder in the world. 

The globalised world that we inhabit and that we have both helped forge, underscores the importance of deepening our knowledge and appreciation of one another. In an ever turbulent and changing world, the dialogue that academia can foster is not merely a nice-to-have it is a pillar that supports peace and prosperity.”

Mr Dickson Poon added, “I believe China will become an even more significant world force this century, requiring a deeper understanding by the West. Oxford already has a proud history in the study of China, and I was delighted to make this gift to help advance knowledge, collaboration and understanding in all aspects of Chinese culture.”

One St. Hugh’s second year student commented, “Ohmygod, [sic] Prince William is ridic [sic] handsome in the flesh. Also, I better be getting one of those new ensuite bedrooms.”

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.

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