By Ryan Gould
A report into the findings from a student consltation meeting has found that students think more should be done to improve the handling of sexual harassment and consent across the University.
Durham Students’ Union held two ‘Zone’ meetings in Michaelmas term, with the first meeting focusing on the issue of sexual harassment.
The second meeting focused on the recent decision by Durham University to increase the cost of College accommodation fees to over £7,000 for a standard, catered room in the 2016/17 academic year.
Attended by students from both Durham City and Queens campuses, participants were split between five and three groups respectively to identify various issues and areas for improvement within these areas.
The sexual harassment and consent zone meeting “aimed to gather views on whether sexual consent workshops should be compulsory, as well as to gather ideas on how to reduce the number of sexual assaults that happen to Durham University students during their time here.”
80% of the five groups identified that the “current knowledge that students have on the situation of sexual harassment in Durham is limited,” with one group stating that a “very small minority have the knowledge to tackle [the problem].”
At the same time, 100% of the groups thought that sexual harassment is “seriously underreported” because “people don’t want to talk about it…[they] don’t want to admit [being a victim] even on an anonymous survey.”
Mentioned by 80% of the groups, it was identified that the close-knit nature of Durham’s collegiate system creates a barrier to reporting instances of sexual harassment.
One group pointed out that “[you] don’t want to exclude yourself by going against [the close-knit nature of colleges],” while another said that an individual is “more likely to be called out in College vs. Klute.”
Similarly, 80% of the groups found that the current reporting structure is unclear. There needs to be “more transparency…the current system scares people because they don’t know where the information will go,” one group said.
Another group suggested that improvements to the reporting structure should be made to ensure that there is “a consistent and strong response to reports of sexual harassment and rape.”
80% of the groups mentioned that there is a male student stereotype in Durham “which is fuelled by ‘lad culture.’” One group said that there is “a responsibility to stop ‘lad culture,’” while another said that it is a sign of “heteronormativity and [the] standards of manhood.”
At the same time, the report identifies the multiplicity of different views surrounding the issue of compulsory consent workshops.
One group said pointed out that compulsory consent workshops have “to be for everyone,” and there should be a “base form of it in Freshers Week delivered by peers and authoritative figures.”
Another group questioned whether consent workshops should be made compulsory by College Common Rooms. While this is the case, the group argued that “by being forced to come, they’ll be less likely to want to come [voluntarily].”
The report identifies three suggestions for improvement in this area: To implement a clear and concise reporting structure; the need to include all demographic groups from across the Durham student population (e.g. undergraduates, postgraduates, international students, LGBTA students, etc.); and for the reporting structure to be structurally inclusive and require cooperation between the University, the Students’ Union, and the Colleges.
At the second meeting, many students were unhappy with the rise in College accommodation fees amid the University’s argument that the rise in fees are essential to cover costs. The report states that the University’s proposals “do not sufficiently justify this and supporting data has not been provided.”
The meeting aimed to gather students’ views on whether the University is justified in increasing the cost of accommodation fees, or whether students feel they are being taken advantage of.
There was a wider aim of finding out whether students think this increase will affect students from lower-income backgrounds, and what measures could be put in place to help balance the opportunity for students from such backgrounds.
100% of the groups mentioned that the increase in accommodation fees make Colleges less accessible to students. One group pointed out that, “regardless of parental income, it’s equal access to education,’ while another said that it “could create a divide between people who can afford activities/events/social life.”
Similarly, the report notes that “there is a lack of trust in the University’s motives for the increase in accommodation fees,” with 100% of the groups mentioning this.
One group questioned where the University are “covering something up by not being more transparent,” with another asking: “How can Durham justify accommodation costing more than Oxbridge?”
100% of the groups also identified that there is a lack of knowledge as to what the surplus funds gained from increasing the cost of accommodation fees will be spent on.
One group alluded to the University’s “high spending on art,” asking “Why?!” Another mentioned that it is “difficult to find out what the money is spent on—what counts as what.”
The groups also recognised that communication between the University and students is a problem. “Acknowledge students’ concerns and address them,” one group said, while another remarked that College staff members provide “more direct communication” than that from higher authorities.
The report concludes that there is a need to create more transparency about where the surplus funds are being spent and why an increase in accommodation fees is needed. It also points out that communication channels between the University and students need to be improved.
Only 75% of the groups mentioned that “a collaborative response [to the issue] is needed, combining Colleges, the Students’ Union, and students.”
Featured image: Durham Students’ Union