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Changes To Discipline Rules Following University Wide Consultation

Content note: rape, sexual harassment, sexual assault, domestic abuse

Following consultation with the Students' Union on a new student disciplinary regulation a number of positive changes have been made to the University’s existing procedure.

The most prescient of these was the exclusion from University legislation of a clause that specified that groups of students using occupation as a means of protest would be charged with major misconduct. This was the result of a petition and staunch opposition from the Union and university at council with regards to the preclusion of this sentence.

Occupation has long been held as a valid form of peaceful protest, and the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement amongst many others (including the recent Safer Sussex occupation of Sussex House, which resulted in the university management dedicating £20,000 to educational and support materials) have done honourable work to raise awareness of, and directly combat various injustices worldwide.

As such, the Students’ Union saw fit to oppose legislation that would give the University power to impose strict sanctions on those desiring to use occupation as a means of protest. The eventual omission of this condemnation of occupation represents a great victory for Union members, in line with with the Union’s support for freedom of expression.

The Students' Union president, Abe Baldry, was part of a group which initially reviewed the old procedure, and drafted principles upon which the new one is based. He states:

"I am glad that after some tough opposition, the university community has been able to ensure that the right to protest has been protected."

Despite this initial disagreement, the University has also considered and included many of the Union’s suggestions, most of which focused around improving the procedure for students seeking to report incidents of sexual or domestic abuse. Our recommendations to the University have been based on the NUS’s guidance as part of the #StandByMe campaign, which aims to improve institutional support for survivors of sexual violence.

Some of the other changes made to further support survivors following Students’ Union lobbying include:

  • Sexual harassment and sexual violence are now explicitly categorised as examples of major misconduct. Students charged with major misconduct can be excluded from the University, suspended or fined. This change demonstrates a move away from the outdated Zellick Guidance often used by universities, which claims that rape and sexual assault should never be investigated via internal discipline procedures. The Students’ Union have urged the University to publicly speak out against Zellick as a result of the #StandByMe campaign.

  • Any staff and Union officers involved in the procedure will be receiving training on a comprehensive range of issues, including equality and diversity, unconscious bias and specialist training on taking witness statements from survivors of sexual violence.

  • A change in the way Student Discipline Panels must be conducted. The University’s procedure for conducting Student Disciplinary Panels has always mandated that the complainant must be cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator for major misconduct cases. We know that this is inappropriate in a number of circumstances, so pushed for an option in the procedure which allows students making a complaint the opportunity to go through the process without having to be confronted by their alleged perpetrator. In the new regulation, the complainant can request a variation of the procedure, meaning that the Chair of the Panel can schedule meetings with the complainant and the perpetrator at different days and times. Formal reports of incidents of sexual and domestic violence are really low on the campus, perhaps due to the procedure for reporting incidents needing survivors to be cross-examined. We hope that a more supportive procedure, with the safety of survivors and the campus population at the forefront, will encourage more students to come forward if something happens.

  • The addition of a ‘Precautionary Action’ period for matters of major misconduct allows the Vice-Chancellor to suspend the alleged perpetrator from the University for a specific period of time or until the conclusion of either criminal or disciplinary proceedings. This suspension is purely precautionary in nature, and does not mean that, as yet, the University has decided that the student has committed an offence, but can be used where there is significant concern for the imminent safety or wellbeing of the complainant or the entire campus population.

  • Where a decision is taken by the Police or through the close of criminal proceedings, to not pursue a case or which does not result in a conviction, the University may still take their own disciplinary action if they that there are outstanding matters of concern which haven’t been addressed. This could include taking into consideration, for example, that evidence shows that 82% of rapes are never reported to the police and of these, only 1 in 5 results in court proceedings. In effect, the new regulation suggests a move away from taking the outcome of a criminal investigation as fact without considering potential shortcomings of the criminal justice system.

Rianna, Welfare Officer, who led on the Students’ Union consultation, and has been working jointly with students and the University on improving institutional support for survivors of sexual violence, said:

“Policies which do not offer a clear and supportive procedure for survivors to report their assault can contribute to an environment where students either feel it is pointless to come forward unless they report to the police, or they will not come forward because they feel they will be pressurised to do so. I really hope that, with both a new disciplinary regulation and a joint work on with the University to educate new students about what consent is, we will see an increase in the number of students feeling able to report sexual and domestic abuse through the University’s internal disciplinary procedure.

Training to ensure that staff deal sensitively and appropriately with such cases, alongside numerous actions which seek to safeguard survivors are hugely welcomed by the Students’ Union. We still have a long way to go, but I have to show my gratitude for the University's willingness to adapt for the better.”

The Students’ Union fully support any measures which protect students, and believe the changes made by the University to the manner in which they deal with cases of sexual and domestic abuse represent a significant improvement.

If you require support in relation to sexual assault that you have experienced, you can contact Survivors’ Network or speak to a Student Life Advisor in the Student Life Centre on campus, as well as accessing the University’s counselling service.

The Student Life Centre has information online to help explain the options available for students who have experienced sexual assault as well as other sources of help and support.

You can view a breakdown of the university's student discipline regulation here.

 

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