At the end of Michaelmas, the University updated its harassment policy and procedure, something for which students have been fighting for years. The new policy is much better than the old policy, with a clearer process, a better focus on welfare, and guidelines for staff members who receive disclosures.
However, changing the University’s harassment policy does not change colleges’ policies. This is why OUSU has set up the Harassment Policy Working Group, chaired by Alice Vacani, to coordinate student action and get colleges to update their own policies. Lots of the members of the Working Group come from OUSU’s campaigns (especially WomCam and It Happens Here), but it is also open to any interested student.
We will be running sessions to equip students with the tools needed to understand the new policy, and to fight for better policies in their colleges. We will also be coordinating student feedback on the new policy, and on areas we think need improving further.
Getting this policy right is absolutely central to protecting students, as is getting the University and colleges to stand up and say clearly that harassment, bullying, discrimination and sexual violence are not tolerated here. Currently, these are serious problems. For example, 68 per cent of female students experience harassment during their time at university (NUS Hidden Marks, 2010). 59 per cent of BME respondents to a CRAE report have felt uncomfortable or unwelcome at Oxford due to their race (100 Voices Report, 2014). Laddish ‘banter’ that makes oppressed groups the butt of a joke is far from rare.
College policies are often difficult to navigate and may be unfamiliar to students. On top of this, colleges’ policies are largely inconsistent and there is no obvious minimum level of provision. This makes it even more difficult for students who are already dealing with harassment to come forward and get results. We need to use the momentum that we have now, from the University’s updated policy and from a strong and growing intersectional student activist community, to push for this work. Colleges need to update their policies, and we need to move into a culture that sees the constant evaluation and updating of these policies as necessary.
You can see the new policy here: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/eop/harassmentadvice/policyandprocedure/
Get in touch with the Harassment Policy Working Group by emailing the chair, Alice, at alice.vacani@ hertford.ox.ac.uk or me at women@ ousu.ox.ac.uk.