An open letter addressed to the Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge, which calls for measures to eradicate Durham’s “toxic, misogynistic culture” has received over 1,000 signatures.
The letter, written by student Elena Limongelli, begins: “as a woman and a student at Durham, I believe this is the appropriate time to start an overdue discussion about misogyny in all its forms and tackle the problem within our community.”
This follows a vigil for Sarah Everard earlier this week, which was attended by over 200 people.
Ms Limongelli told Palatinate: “I’m absolutely delighted with the overwhelming response, and I must say I was particularly glad to see an enthusiastic participation from male students. This really shows that Sarah’s story touched everyone’s hearts and that we are finally ready to open a discussion that may be difficult and even uncomfortable, but one that is essential.
“As said in the vigil organised last Monday, let this be the beginning of a movement, rather than a passing moment.”
The letter calls on the University to implement “stricter disciplinary measures for individuals explicitly threatening sexual assaults and talking about it with such disgusting nonchalance”. In the face of such actions, the letter says, the University should respond with “uncompromising punishments such as blank expulsion for all guilty perpetrators of this toxic, misogynistic culture.
“I expect to graduate from a University that condemns, with the greatest disdain, all words and acts that undermine women’s safety – including my own.”
Additionally, the letter implores the University to “strive to protect us from any threat, inside or outside our community, as much as the University has done so professionally with Covid-19.
“As of now, I don’t feel that the University is there. The brutal murder of a member of our community is one of the many consequences of a toxic culture that neglects and silences women, especially those who are victims and survivors of gender-based violence”.
The letter references an incident before the start of this academic year in a group of incoming freshers, whose comments included suggestions of using female students for sex. The letter states: “I was mortified when I heard that only one of 60 members of said group chat had faced serious consequences, when clearly more people had participated in the discussion and agreed to unspeakable words”.
It continues that: “this is a clear message from the University that the safety, comfort, and well-being of its female student population comes second to the excuses of potential predators. Also, the mere dissolution of official DSU groups that were reportedly connected to misogynistic statements is too weak an action against students that could put women at risk.”
In response to Sarah Everard’s death, Professor Corbridge, Vice-Chancellor, wrote to all students, saying: “Sarah was a popular and lively member of our University community and retained a large Durham University friendship group. Our thoughts remain with her family and friends at this extremely difficult time. We are working with Sarah’s college and department on how the University and our wider community can pay tribute to Sarah and honour her memory. Our Students’ Union leaders have organised an online vigil and a memorial site outside their building for tributes.”
Image: Adeline Zhao