University sees spike in bullying and harassment

The number of complaints had doubled in the past three years

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Reports of bullying and harassment have risen sharply since the University updated harassment policy and procedures three years ago.

Data released in response to a freedom of information request by Cherwell show that the number of harassment and bullying complaints received by the University more than doubled between the 2013-14 and 2016-17 academic years.

University policy was rewritten in 2014 with input from Oxford SU and other groups. The update, which came into effect in Hilary 2015, was designed to simplify the processing of harassment cases.

Changes included a clearer procedure for students to raise complaints against other students and guidance for staff handling sexual violence-related cases.

A University spokesperson told Cherwell: “The revisions put the students themselves at the centre of the process, allowing them to make first disclosures at a level where they are most comfortable.

“We see the number of students now coming forward to disclose or report incidents as reflecting the progress made. Students can be clear on where to go for support and confident that they will be listened to.”

The number of staff-on-staff incidents rose from four in 2013-14 to twelve in 2015-16, the first full year that the policy and procedure updates were in place. The number of student-on-student incidents went from one to sixteen in the same period.

While the University pointed to policy revisions as the reason for increased reporting, others have suggested that different factors could be responsible for the rise, including an increase in the actual number of harassment incidents happening on campus.

Oxford SU VP for Welfare and Equal Opportunities Farheen Ahmed told Cherwell: “All students should have the right to not be harassed or discriminated against at university. There are many reasons as to why the spike has occurred, some could be due to general increases in incidents post-Brexit or increased confidence in accessing harassment procedures.

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“The University has a no-tolerance policy to harassment or discrimination (in any form), and students should feel comfortable in being able to report such incidents, wherever the need arises.

“Oxford SU is representing students in improving these process in university committees and in making sure students know how to access the reporting process”

2016-17 also saw three complaints of student-on-staff harassment, the first such incidents since 2010. Action was taken against nine staff members and three students who were accused of harassment.

The University noted that the number of reported incidents is relatively small. A spokesperson commented: “While we take bullying harassment extremely seriously, these numbers suggest that it is incredibly rare in a University with more than 23,000 students and 13,000 staff.”

The data also shows that an increasing number of university staff have been sent to counseling services after reporting bullying or harassment. 30 staff members were referred to harassment-related counseling in 2016-17, compared to ten in 2012-13.

Referrals have risen year-on-year since 2012-13. There were sixteen student-on-student harassment complaints in 2015-16, and eight in 2016-17. By means of comparison, there were twelve staff-on-staff complaints in 2015-16, and five in 2016-17.

In addition to offering counseling services to staff, the university maintains a network of 370 harassment advisors across departments and faculties. Advisors are charged with supporting victims of bullying and harassment as they seek official action.

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