- The Guardian reports on the ‘Sexual harassment of students by university staff hidden by non-disclosure agreements.’
- The Telegraph reports that ‘Goldsmiths, University of London, paid the most in compensation to victims of sexual harassment. Despite the scale of the problem, just five universities compensated students, with Goldsmiths found to have made the largest payout for claims at £192,146.’
- The Guardian reports on the allegations that sparked the 'enquiry.'
- Another report in The Guardian about how 'One UK University confronted its sexual harrassment problem.'
- Some quotes from that report below:
‘Students are also being paid to lead consent and bystander intervention workshops for peers, rather than relying on volunteers, in an attempt to formalise student-led training and improve information given to classmates.’ (Goldsmiths is now cutting the funding to make this possible).
'Elisabeth Hill, a Deputy Warden at Goldsmiths, said the university wanted meaningful change that put victims at the heart of the process, rather than a “sticking plaster quick-fix”. And she said there was a new commitment to transparency. “We would struggle to see a situation where we would use NDAs in future. They are counterproductive. We need to make sure the process is fair and transparent.”
Hills said it had been uncomfortable acknowledging the shortcomings of the past, but expressed gratitude to Ahmed and other campaigners whose efforts had focused attention on the sector’s failure to properly address sexual misconduct. “There have been a lot of changes. What will be really interesting is how that change embeds. This is too important for just a quick fix.”’
- A statement from Goldsmiths University as they launched the fund.
For the last 2 years, the Students’ Union have run ‘Active Bystander Training’ workshops for Goldsmiths students to raise awareness of consent, rape culture and educate students on how to safely intervene in situations of sexual harassment. We do this by hiring and training students at Goldsmiths who then educate their peers, fostering a sense of collective responsibility within the Goldsmiths community.
With the government advised lockdown, the Students’ Union made the decision to pause our Active Bystander workshops. The Against Sexual Violence Student Union team went on furlough from April until September, and did not get funding in place from the University to do sufficient planning for the 2020-21 year. The Universities’Against Sexual Violence Board’ met only twice during this time to discuss next steps and we were reassured that the Students’ Union would receive the same funding as the previous year, but no suggestions were made by the University or how to proceed.
The suspension of the workshops and recruitment meant that the University had a surplus of £6,218.30 that would otherwise have been spent in the first term. The Student Union gave the recommendation that the University invest that money in Consent Matters - an online consent training platform. This is a platform that many Universities use alongside their Active Bystander Training and additional training, we were surprised that the University had never considered it before.
We made it clear that this must not replace the Active Bystander Training and the content control must reside in the Student Union but operational responsibility be split between us.
Alongside Consent Matters, we raised several concerns we had about the lack of institutional support and operational oversight from the University. In the last academic year (2019-20) the University cancelled over five of Against Sexual Violence Boards at the last minute, Senior Management refused ignored requests to meet with the newly appointed Against Sexual Violence SU staff member and the University were adamant not to hire someone to oversee the operational side of the Against Sexual Violence Project, despite the fact that Senior Management in the University stated multiple times that they could not afford the time or energy to focus on this project.
The University has unfortunately ignored all of our suggestions for an Against Sexual Violence Operational Lead in the University (a staff position that exists at other Universities such as Durham), for a three year commitment to a blended learning of Consent Matters and the Active Bystander Training (again, that other universities do) and for appropriate access to University resources necessary for operational success. Instead, they have decided that this is the time to cut the funding to the Against Sexual Violence project. A time when students are isolated from their support groups, may be living in dangerous domestic situations, and online harassment and violence is on the rise.
To be clear, this decision means that Goldsmiths University are breaking a promise they made not only to the public and the Students’ Union, but to surivors of sexual violence at Goldsmiths SU. This decision will be making two of our staff members at the SU redundant in the middle of a pandemic and replacing all the work we have done with an online training platform. While we have faith in Consent Matters, we fear that the University is using it as a ‘plaster’ solution to a much larger problem, a cultural problem that saw the University in a public scandal only a few years ago and saw the resignation of Professor Sara Ahmed.
What we have done meanwhile
While the University has been using the promised funding as a bartering chip with the Students’ Union to try and get us to agree to methods we think do not benefit students, we have been working. We have not lost sight that the work and fighting we do is for students. We spoke directly to hundreds of students in their inductions, talking about enthusiastic consent and the importance of being an active bystander. We have launched our Digital Consent Awareness Campaign, raising awareness of the types of behaviour that are not acceptable online and signposting students to support. We have re-launched our free period product service ‘It’s Only a Bloody Period!’ and distributed over 250 pads and tampons to students in need, in just a few days! We have been organising a blend of educational and wellbeing events for 16 Days Against Sexual Violence, all free and all accessible.
Meanwhile, the University SMT has been trying to negotiate limiting our control over the project and taking away our funding. We have kept quiet until now, taking conversations with the University in good faith that this was for the benefit of students, but sadly we no longer think this is the case. Cancelled meetings, refusing to meet our staff, threatening to take away our funding - this isn’t the partnership we imagined and it’s not one we want to be a part of. The University SMT has lost sight of their responsibilities and duties to survivors and all students but we have not.