A student has been expelled for a “serious breach” of the University’s Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy, while another has received a fixed-term suspension for breaching the University’s non-academic misconduct policy.
In a statement published on their website today, Durham University announced that “a student committed a serious breach of our Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy and has been expelled from the University.
“We have made a commitment to our community that we will promptly investigate and take action when individuals are found to have breached our values and standards of behaviour.
“Sexual misconduct and violence are matters of international concern and through our Sexual Misconduct and Violence Operations Group, our support and report systems and our discipline procedures, we are working to make Durham a safer place to live, work and study.”
The University also made clear that “there is no place in Durham” for individuals who have committed acts of sexual misconduct or violence. Both cases have been considered by the University’s Senate Discipline Committee.
In October, a Palatinate investigation found that almost 100 incidents of rape or attempted rape and 290 incidents of sexual misconduct were disclosed to Durham University from 2014-2019.
Despite dozens of reports of serious sexual misconduct – many of which constituted criminal offences – being made during that period, Durham University expelled or excluded no more than 20 students following investigations.
However, the University has taken steps to address sexual misconduct and violence at Durham. In 2016, Durham University became the first University to appoint a full-time Student Support and Training Officer to deal with sexual violence.
In addition to this, the University has hired two full-time professional investigators and increased its funding for specialist counsellors. In an exclusive interview with Palatinate which will be published in Thursday’s print edition, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience) Jeremy Cook OBE said that Durham is the first UK university to appoint more than one specialist investigator for sexual misconduct cases.
In response to its decision to suspend one student for breaking the non-academic misconduct policy, the University said: “We believe everyone has the right to work and study in an environment that is respectful, and where people feel comfortable to be themselves.
“As part of our drive to ensure we create a respectful and inclusive University culture, we expect staff and students to adhere to the University’s values on behaviour and our regulations on conduct.
“Where an individual’s behaviour falls below the standard we would expect, we take swift and decisive action.”
The University outlined some of the work it has done recently to improve the University culture, explaining that “Our Respect Oversight Group (ROG) meets four times a year to oversee our progress in response to the Report of the Durham Commission on Respect, Values, and Behaviour” which was established in October 2018 in a bid to improve the learning and living culture at Durham University.
The Respect Oversight Group was set up in October 2020 in response to the findings of the University’s Respect Commission. Following a report published by Durham student, Lauren White, which alleged verbal and physical abuse against Northern students at Durham University, University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, and the Respect Report Chair agreed to implement a new Student Pledge which includes ‘background’ as a protected characteristic.
The University also recently announced that it has begun the recruitment process for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Trainers (EDI) Trainers “who will develop and deliver vital training for all students”, as well as recruiting additional Conduct Investigators who are “improving the speed of complaint responses”.
In October, two students were expelled from Durham University for committing a “serious breach” of the University’s Sexual Misconduct and Violence Policy and for making racist remarks on social media respectively.
Additionally, one student had their offer withdrawn last summer after “utterly abhorrent” screenshots emerged of their comments in an offer holders’ group chat, which included concerns over being accused of rape and suggestions of using female students for sex, although two students implicated in the screenshots were allowed to keep their offers.
Commenting on the changes Durham has made in recent years, Cook said, “I’m quite excited. Just in my time here we’ve seen a lot of real change and real commitment to change.
“When I first arrived here, people were saying to me, ‘Jeremy, where’s the proof, where’s the staff, where’s the recruitment, where’s the decisive action. Are you kicking people out?’ So we’re starting to respond to that and I think we’re doing really well, in my view.
“You’ve got to do this. You don’t make this change unless people believe you are committed to it. I’m 100% committed to driving this change so let’s get behind this together. This isn’t just a University problem, it’s about changing all of us.”
Sophie O’Sullivan, president of It’s NOT OK Durham, a student group fighting sexual violence, harassment and misconduct in Durham, said: “It’s NOT OK Durham are relieved to hear that the University has taken decisive action against a student who has committed a serious breach of the Sexual Misconduct and Violence Procedure.
“By removing this person from campus and making this knowledge public, the University has demonstrated that they are working towards making perpetrators on this campus accountable.
“This is a small step towards making this University a safer space for students. However, the University must employ a more holistic and intersectional approach towards prevention of sexual violence and support for student survivors,” O’Sullivan continued. “We believe that it is imperative to roll out the SU active bystander training to all students, and to have this alongside compulsory anti-racism training and unconscious bias training concerning minority and marginalised students.
“This will demonstrate to the student community that sexual violence is not a crime of miscommunication of consent, but of the exertion of power and control on both an individual and systemic level.
“The University must assure the student community that all students undergoing investigations are adequately supported through specialist Independent sexual violence advisors and this should be an opt-out procedure, rather than opt-in. The consent matters module is not only a training for freshers, but is also used as a disciplinary measure for those who fall foul of the SMV procedure.
“We therefore call on the University to see this module for what it is, essential in the training and punishment of sexual violence cases and to therefore take profound steps to update it to make it more effective. For student survivors, It’s NOT OK Durham believe you and we support you.”
Image: Adeline Zhao