UCD are currently in the process of reviewing their Dignity and Respect policy, which includes the college’s approach to sexual harassment and assault.
Today I had an article in the Journal.ie which revealed one UCD student’s experience attempting to seek support through the current policy framework, following her own sexual assault.
The student’s experience highlights how much work needs to be done with the college’s current guidelines for dealing with sexual assault. Students looking for support or assistance following a sexual assault or harassment will discover it is incredibly difficult to even find where to bring their problems to the university. Then harder still to get the university to listen or respond to them.
Our UCD community; the students, administration, staff and SU must work to put in place a modern and proactive sexual harassment policy. One that creates an atmosphere of zero-tolerance for harassment and that supports instead of ignores victims.
This should mean changing and improving both the institutional structures and policies around sexual assault, as well as working to improve the cultural reaction taken informally by students to harassment.
Institutionally there should be a simple, easy to find and straightforward place either online or physically (that is well advertised and promoted) that students know they can go to for support following a sexual assault or incident of harassment. This support network however shouldn’t just serve to bounce students off to counselling, but should comprehensively look at how the university can help the student, and how UCD can change if needs be in order to deal with their concerns.
Consent discussions or workshops should be brought in and properly funded by the university. Despite promises by UCD that they would rollout the consent workshops they did not provide any funding when it came to it. Instead the Students’ Union had to run and finance small pilot sexual consent workshops, which had little pickup on campus.
The issue of consent is a divisive one, due to their portrayal as condescending ‘classes’ that are viewed by some as an exercise in teaching ‘men how not to rape’. But consent is such a grey area, particularly when alcohol is added into the situation, so discussing, exploring, and debating that grey area should be something university students rise to rather than reject and fight against. The dearth of any comprehensive sexual education in the Irish primary or secondary school system means like it or not entering university the majority of students have had a deficit in education on consent and sexual relationships.
Rather than claiming we don’t need to talk about consent and that we know it all; based solely on the same ad hoc learn-as-you-go style approach to sexual education older generations had, we should instead embrace the opportunity to rigorously and maturely debate the topic amongst the student body.
There needs to be a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment in UCD. No student or member of staff, either male and female deserves to be subjected to sexual harassment. That harassment could be in the form of unwanted sexual comments, cat-calling, grabbing someone’s ass in the Clubhouse without their consent, or unsolicited nudes or sexual messages.
UCD as a college must firmly and resolutely make it clear that kind of behaviour isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated, and could result in expulsion for perpetrators. As students we should also commit to creating an atmosphere that has zero-tolerance for sexual harassment. That means calling someone out on their actions and behaviour if it’s out of line, and no longer tacitly accepting it through silence or acquiescence.
Bystander intervention workshops could also be introduced in tandem with consent discussions. Bystander intervention is an emerging psychological idea that looks at why an individual in a group witnessing an incident of violence, bullying or sexual harassment tends to not get involved. By each individual in the group taking their cue collectively from the other means they all let the incident play out in front of them and do nothing. Some solutions to the problem include promoting a culture that views sexual harassment as intolerable and encourages people to speak out or intervene when they encounter someone being subjected to harassment.
UCD’s review of their Dignity & Respect policy with regards to sexual assault and harassment will open up for consultations from 2017. This will include looking for feedback or suggestions from the wider UCD community, students, the SU, and staff. Students should take an active interest and participate in this process, and look to create and put in place a modern and proactive institutional approach and culture for dealing with sexual assault and harassment.
This is not to say the task of combatting sexual assault is UCD’s alone. And it must be recognised that they are tied as to how far they can help individual cases, and where instead the Garda and other authorities are the most appropriate place to seek help. But the university still has a responsibility to play their part to tackle the issue, and to move away from a culture that blames victims to one that supports them.
The Tribune has and will stand with the victims, and with those who feel that UCD didn’t want to hear their story or concerns. We will continue to call for this university to live up to its duty of care and responsibilities in helping to tackle sexual assault and harassment on campus. Students and staff should look to do so as well.
Jack Power | Editor
If you wish to talk to someone on any of the issues raised by this piece you can contact your Student Advisor at: http://www.ucd.ie/studentadvisers/whoweare/#d.en.238216
Or you can contact the UCD counselling service at: (01) 716 3133