As a VC, I’m often asked about my priorities and about what I’m doing to steer Warwick towards achieving great things in our teaching, our research, our regional and global partnerships. These are challenging and stimulating discussions to have. Recent conversations with Chloe Wynne – the Welfare and Campaigns Officer at our Students’ Union – and colleagues in our Wellbeing Support Services – have made me see how important it is to also talk about one of the most fundamental priorities of my job, which we often don’t discuss as openly as we should: to create a safe environment for study.
The University of Warwick campus is a very safe one. In the last few weeks the Complete University Guide’s 2016 crime tables were published and showed Warwick to have the eighth lowest level of reported crime of any University in England and Wales.
This is a good indicator but also a metric that we will always seek to sustain and improve upon. We have services in which we are continuing to invest, dedicated to creating a secure, nurturing and respectful environment. However, it takes commitment and partnership to foster, maintain and enhance this safe environment.
I recognise and value all of this – and I’m hugely grateful for the work of colleagues across the University, SU and externally to help ensure the safety of our campus environment. But, conversations with Chloe and colleagues show what more we need to do – not just at Warwick, but across the Higher Education sector.
Estimates say that, nationally, around one in four female students will encounter sexual harassment, assault or rape during her time at university. We also know that sexual and domestic violence against men is significantly under-reported. Just last week, the Guardian reported on some appalling examples of sexual harassment that students have experienced.
So there must be more, much more, that we can all do through our support services, culture, guidance and processes to help address this.
A Universities UK task force was established in 2015 specifically to address sexual violence in universities in England, and is expected to report its recommendations in November. I am pleased that key colleagues from Warwick, including Christine Ennew (Provost) and Shirley Crookes (Head of Wellbeing Support Services), will be participating in the UUK Conference alongside Chloe. At Warwick, we are actively looking at how we most effectively give guidance and support to anyone affected by sexual violence; I thus look forward to the positive actions and recommendations that are to come.
When incidents are reported, we strive to deal with everyone in those individual cases with absolute diligence and care. But, to truly support the safe environment we expect to see in universities, we need more fit-for-purpose and nationally-applied guidance to drive best practice across the sector.
The Zellick Report, which is the guidance by which universities nationally have developed their disciplinary procedures around sexual violence, was published over 20 years ago. It is outdated, inconsistently applied and even inappropriate in a number of ways: it does not reflect legal changes since the 1990s; it offers universities very limited guidance on how to handle reported incidents within our communities; it does not reflect how we should work in partnership with external support services or the police in a way that best suits the needs of all those affected.
We need a culture of inclusivity and zero tolerance where all members of our community feel valued, where they can expect to feel safe, where they know exactly how to report incidents and get support. We need disciplinary procedures that are fully aligned with any external criminal investigations to support these expectations. We need empowering prevention initiatives on the issues of sexual harassment and violence; and an inclusive, positive approach to the promotion of the understanding of consent. We need clear, accessible and robust pathways for support and monitoring. We need to work with students and experts to ensure effective guidance, training and investigation. We need dynamic cross-service, and cross-institutional models, to respond sensitively and swiftly to reported incidents, and to record and review data to drive continuous improvement to what universities can do.
We also need the commitment of individuals in roles like mine: to help both set that standard and to drive cultural change. I will play my part in championing the sector-wide positive change we need to provide a truly safe environment for study for all.