Durham University Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Corbridge encouraged students to “be an active bystander” in a virtual matriculation ceremony.
Matriculation takes place every year in Durham Cathedral during induction week, and marks the point at which freshers and new postgraduates officially become Durham University students. This year, Covid-19 forced the Univer- sity to move the ceremony online.
The video, which was posted to the University’s YouTube channel, began with a message from Andrew Tremlett, Dean of Durham Cathedral. Lockdown this year marked the first time that the Cathedral was forced to close since 1649; the Dean commented on how 2020 has been an “extraordinary year”.
Durham Students’ Union President, Seun Twins, commented on the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, describing 2020 as “surreal” and a year of “chaos, flux, and existentialism”.
Ms Twins also addressed topics including decolonising the academic curriculum, and commented that “social justice, privilege and equality have sure enough defined the zeitgeist”. She called on students to treat Durham University as a “venue in which vibrant dialogue may occur”, to “ask questions” and “find answers”.
The SU President was followed by the Durham University Vice-Chancellor. Professor Corbridge echoed Ms Twins’ comments, saying: “If you see misbehaviour, if you see examples of sexism or misogyny or racism or classism, challenge. Be an active bystander, get involved”.
He also commented that “we must always treat one another with respect” and that “we need to be sensitive to differences”.
The video ended with a mes- sage from Jeremy Cook, Durham University Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), who spoke about Durham’s collegiate system. He said: “your college is a ready-made family of people from different countries and backgrounds”.
These addresses come after a series of incidents in which screenshots of hateful comments made in group chats by Durham University students were posted online on the Facebook group Overheard at Durham Uni. The messages included concerns over being accused of rape, suggestions of using female students for sex, and approving comments about the death of George Floyd.
The University condemned the comments as “abhorrent” and conducted an investigation into the screenshots, which resulted in one male student involved in the group chats having their offer of a place at the University withdrawn. However, two other male students implicated in the screen- shots were able to keep their offers to study at the University.
In another incident last month, screenshots which led to Durham SU’s decision to ban the Durham University Conservative Society and the Durham University Free Market Association from operating as an SU-funded society, were posted on Overheard at Durham Uni and another Facebook group, Durham Uni students – buy, sell and swap items.
Another video, also posted on the University’s YouTube channel, shows Professor Rebecca Gowland, Professor of Archeology, discussing with other students and staff how the Durham University community can remain respectful in an online environment.
Professor Gowland said: “Things can quickly get heated online and particularly on social media […] we want to make sure everyone at Durham feels they’re working in a safe, dignified and respectful environment”.
She added that we “need to advocate for each other, speak out when there’s hate speech or inappropriate behaviour […] we all need to work together to make Durham University a real community”.
Image: Durham University via YouTube