Wadham "zero-tolerance" rule defeats opposition

An attempt to repeal Wadham’s recent “zero tolerance” motion concerning sexual harassment failed in the Wadham Student Union. Proposed by Luke Buckley and seconded by Charlotte Goodman, the new motion failed by 51 votes to 38.

The original motion encourages the Wadham SU to “To implement a Zero Tolerance policy for all bops, Wadstock and Queerfest.” The policy will entail suspected perpetrators of sexual harassment or assault being immediately ejected from the premises by security staff. In addition to this, a record will be kept of any alleged perpetrator who has been ejected and this will then be sent to college harassment officers.

The motion also specified that the “Zero Tolerance” policy must be advertised at the events and in relevant handbooks. The policy stated that “ignorance of this policy will not be considered a valid defence” and “there are no exceptions to these rules.” This initial motion passed with approximately two thirds of the student vote.

Speaking out against this policy, Luke Buckley proposed a motion to revoke the previously implemented “Zero Tolerance” policy on sexual harassment. His new motion noted that “sexual harassment is a complex and endemic problem” and that “no-one should have to suffer sexual harassment”.

However, it also argued that “the stigma, shame and humiliation associated with a wrongful accusation would be seriously damaging to the psychological, emotional and social wellbeing of the wrongfully accused” and “would be impossible to avoid given the nature of forceful removal.” The motion added, “even if an accusation was publically…revoked, shit sticks.”

Had it passed, Buckley’s motion would have mandated the SU to “open up a period of consultation to review the efficacy of college policy.” This consultation would include the college sexual harassment officers, the SU women’s officers, the welfare officers, the SU president, and any other interested parties. In addition, the motion would have mandated the SU to “consider running a student-led and discussion based sexual harassment workshop at least once a year.”

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Buckley, a DPhil student in Criminology, said his research concerns “the tragic failure of zero-tolerance policies and the transnational movement of left-wing resistance that has met them around the globe. Empirical studies…find almost unanimously that the combative, exclusionary and punitive nature of zero tolerance policies often exacerbate the very problems which it was intended to alleviate. My point is…that these policies will make the situation worse, rather than better.” 

Buckley told Cherwell, “We have a conscientious student body that want to make the college environment safe and enjoyable for everyone. That is an honourable intention. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I think it sends out the wrong message completely. For a start, by having this policy, it almost suggests that we haven’t been able to work through this problem by dialogue and discussion.”

He said the policy would make people feel “nervous or unsure about what constitutes an “unwanted’ advance or not.

“By immediately excluding people no matter what the circumstances you breed a culture of resentment and recrimination.”

Buckley also claimed that the vote was “hijacked” by a group of Wadham feminists who used Facebook as a means of galvanising support for the original motion. Several feminist groups have recently been founded in colleges, including the “Raising Consciousness” group at Magdalen, and the “St Anne’s Feminist Discussion Group”.

Sarah Pine and Maeve Scullion originally proposed the “Zero-Tolerance” Motion on 21st April.

Scullion told Cherwell, “Since the motion was passed (back in 1st Week), members of the SU have been working with the College – including the Warden, Sir Ken Macdonald QC – to rewrite the motion so that the policy will be workable practically and contain no terminology that can be misconstrued.”

Pine stated, “The motion came from recognising the extremely high levels of sexual assault and harassment. This isn’t an Oxford-specific problem, but it affects students here as much as it does anyone else. Zero tolerance is a tool which students can use to tackle harassment and assault. OUSU consent workshops, information campaigns and feminist organising play the role of awareness raising instead.”

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Jack Kelleher, a student at Wadham, spoke in favour of Buckley’s motion and the revocation of the initial “Zero-Tolerance” Motion. He said, “There was a general misunderstanding at the meeting of what a zero-tolerance policy actually is…A zero-tolerance attitude, which of course we should maintain towards sexual or any other form of harassment, is not the same thing as a zero-tolerance policy.

“The name masks what is actually a policy denying the accused the right to defend themselves. Such a policy is anti-democratic, authoritarian and, as it transpires, illegal.”

He continued, “It is far more damaging for an institution which identifies with the left wing to impose an authoritarian measure like the zero-tolerance policy than it is to repeal such a measure. We would be cast as immature, reactionary and tribalistic young know-it-alls without any sort of grasp on the complexities of such a deeply sensitive and important issue, and this would not be a fair reflection of the college at all.”