By Poppy Askham
St Chad’s has hosted a virtual open forum for students to share their experiences of sexual misconduct to an audience of college peers and staff, while remaining anonymous.
The event comes in the wake of the death of Durham alumnus Sarah Everard and a UN investigation, which found that 97% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed.
Around 50 students, alumni and staff from St Chad’s attended the meeting on 26th March, including the Principal and Vice-Principal and other senior college members.
Members of the St Chad’s FemSoc executive committee read out around 120 submissions detailing various experiences of sexual misconduct and expressing opinions on the college’s handling of incidents. The accounts were submitted via an anonymous online form and there are plans to publish them shortly.
Co-president of St Chad’s FemSoc, third-year student, Ciara Church told Palatinate that the event was inspired by the death of Sarah Everard and the muted response from St Chad’s College. “There wasn’t really much of a voice from the College but there was a strong voice from the community”, Church explained.
“This was a good opportunity for the College to listen to what we were saying”, she added, noting the importance of public discussions to hold leadership accountable.
Church and co-president Daniel Mahal-White explained that submissions highlighted a lack of awareness about how to report cases of sexual misconduct and what could be reported, particularly amongst first-year students. Victims reported feeling unsure of who to report to and a number expressed a lack of trust in those handling cases, particularly concerning potential police involvement.
“As a fresher, I had no idea who to discuss this with and it was never really outlined to me, because of this I brushed it under the carpet and even normalised it”, stated one anonymous submission. “It has only been this year that I have addressed with my friends how uncomfortable and violated it made me feel.”
Organisers also highlighted student concerns about a lack of visibility in the process of investigating and handling incidents. Mahal-White outlined that victims thought there was insufficient follow-through from reports and that as a result “students felt let down by the system, the University specifically, but then by proxy Chad’s”.
One submission read: “My aggressor received no serious punishment. He’s still walking around freely. I see him all the time. He scares me.”
FemSoc’s presidents met with the Principal of St Chad’s, Dr Margaret Masson following the event and an email was sent by Dr Masson to students on 29th March, expressing her initial response to the event’s revelations and how St Chad’s planned to start addressing the issues raised.
There was also discussion of the culture at Durham University, with students noting the uncomfortable effect of practices such as “sharking”.
Although the audience and submissions were predominantly from female students, several men also came forward. One participant wrote: “I always felt at college as a man sexual misconduct was always a man against women thing and felt very embarrassed at the fact I was felt up, grabbed and groped unconsentually by multiple people, there is no boundary as to how degrading it feels regardless of sex.”
Reflecting on the event, one of the organisers, St Chad’s Middle Common Room President, Olivian Wong explained that “it was a very safe space that people could share in” and described the meeting as “an incredible moment”.
Mahal-White also praised the event, noting the powerful nature of the anonymous submissions and the fact that the majority of attendees did not turn their camera on during the Zoom call. “I think that definitely made it more powerful and raised the universal experience, it could have been anybody that was submitting the stories”.
“I think it was a really good start towards an open dialogue and Chad’s pioneering its way through trying to make the College a safe place”, Mahal-White concluded.
Image: Maddie Fisher