Content warning: this article mentions sexual assault, racism and other themes which some readers may find upsetting.
Durham University has condemned the “abhorrent comments” reportedly made by incoming freshers on several group chats.
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. These were posted as screenshots in the Overheard at Durham Uni Facebook group.
Other screenshots seen by Palatinate used explicitly homophobic language and further discussion of rape allegations against participants.
A joint statement issued by the Durham Womxn’s Association, Durham People of Colour Association, It’s Not OK Durham and the Durham Intersectional Feminism Society, calls for the University to take “serious action over the messages”.
The statement said the comments “make light of, and actualise, situations which many students constantly fear and face. Violence comes in many forms and this is one of them; the normalised discussion and treatment of womxn (particularly working-class and womxn of colour) and Black lives as objects and challenges, rather than people of equal worth.”
The groups believe the situation “reflects systemic problems that exist in Durham” and argue that “In order to protect ALL students and prove that Black Lives Matter, these students should not be welcome back on campus”.
“For students to feel entitled to share such statements in the public eye is a testament to the kind of environment Durham has fostered – one where people feel like this is a safe space for targeted abuse, whether that be sexual violence or racism.”
In response to the allegations, Jeremy Cook, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Colleges and Student Experience), told Palatinate: “We utterly condemn the behaviour demonstrated in these posts, which violates the values and behaviours that we uphold as a University community.
“We have instigated an immediate investigation by our student disciplinary team. If these posts are found to be genuine and attributable, we will take action to ensure that those involved will have no place at Durham University.
“Our students are regularly reminded to display positive and collegial conduct, and exercise responsibility and respect for others, particularly through their social media interactions.”
The joint statement from student groups called Durham’s statement “an encouraging start” though noted that: “it is hard to believe that an ‘investigation’ will provide the change needed when their previous investigations have shown no results, time and time again showing the university does not prioritise the mental health of womxn and minority students.
“We ask that they fulfil their promises to investigate and provide support, and do this in a manner which upholds principles of respect and equality.
“It is the responsibility of the university to ensure that violence like this does not enter our space. In reference to recent incidents of racism within Durham We have seen NO action on the racism and misogyny that had been inflicted on them by other students.
“Resources and mechanisms should be in place, and improved, to ensure the safety and confidence of all students.
“As students we plan to protest and resist these behaviours, now and for as long as we have to.”
Durham University said that “any of our students who have been affected by this social media activity are advised to contact welfare support or their colleges who will be able to offer them help and support.”
Multiple college welfare teams have commented on the Facebook post asking people to get in touch if they have been affected by the issues raised.
Image: Maddie Flisher