The pervasive and detrimental impacts of misogyny, harassment and sexual violence against women are very real and immediate challenges for our society. The University is committed to taking a proactive stand against harassment and sexual violence, including zero-tolerance of sexual violence, harassment, discrimination and hate incidents. We recognise the harmful role of misogyny in fostering cultures in which harassment and sexual violence against women are enabled or accepted. Misogyny, harassment and sexual violence against women have no place on our campuses. Every member of our University community shares a responsibility to take actions to implement our commitment to preventing sexual violence, keeping our campuses safe, tackling aspects of our culture that promote or condone violence against women and promoting a culture of gender inclusion and equality.
Recent events have served to remind us how much still needs to be done to confront and eradicate violence against women in all its forms. While sexual violence against women remains under-reported, the murder of Sarah Everard prompted renewed concerns about the urgency for change. On 19 March, Anthony Forster, the Vice-Chancellor and Monica Illsley (then Inclusion Champion for gender, pregnancy and maternity, marriage and civil partnership) published a blog addressing violence and harassment against women. It acknowledged the unacceptable persistence of all forms of gender-based violence and sought ideas from our community on what more we could and should do as a University to seek to confront and eradicate misogyny, violence, harassment and assault of women in all its forms and the vital role that men can and must play.
Working closely with the Students’ Union and our Women’s Network and all members of our community, over the last six months we have engaged in an extensive consultation to identify the actions that we need to take. The outcome of this work was considered by the University executive group (University Steering Group) on 28 September and we want to share the outcome of this work with our community and the further work that is planned, with a focus on it being lasting and impactful.
We are not confronting these issues from a standing start and over the last three years we have undertaken a great deal of work - in partnership with the Students’ Union, Campus trade unions, and community groups in which our University campuses are located. However, the murder of Sarah Everard in March and of Sabina Nessa on 18 September and the details that emerged last week from Sarah Everard’s murder, have highlighted yet again in the most terrible way the need for urgent action.
The University Steering Group has agreed 24 additional actions that we will be taking. These include both progressing existing actions and new actions to:
Our Student Code of Conduct has been updated to encompass all of the recommendations within the recently published Office for Students Statement of Expectations for preventing and addressing harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students in higher education. We have just updated and published a new Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy, and guidelines setting out our Harassment and Bullying Zero Tolerance Approach. In addition, with strong advocacy from our Students’ Union, consent training as part of the online Welcome/Welcome Back programme is mandatory for all students.
Whilst our actions have been developed specifically in response to violence and harassment against women, some actions can and will be interpreted and applied more broadly, and wider issues around gender-based violence will be considered by our new Director of Inclusion who is joining us in November. In consultation with our community and staff and student networks, our new Director will also develop a separate and specific policy to Tackle Misogyny, Harassment and Sexual Violence Against Women that will be considered by USG on 9 February 2022.
As the Vice-Chancellor has recently commented, having the right policies in place is vital in ensuring that the University acts unequivocally in setting out the behaviours that we expect, with clear expectations for how we treat each other, and in doing so, promoting the organisational culture that we want. But policies are only effective if our staff and students are aware of them and know how to use them – and only then can they be effective in shaping the lived experiences of our community. To this end, as well as monitoring progress through the University’s existing mechanisms, regular reports on progress will also be provided to USG, Senate and Council.
Having consulted our community on what more we can and should do to tackle these issues, we are determined to maintain the momentum and to see change happen. But this is not the responsibility of one person or of a particular group or team, this is a shared responsibility that, as a community, we all need to be prepared to contribute to. We can’t hope to fix what is clearly a societal challenge through our actions, but we can, by working together as a community, contribute towards societal change and, in doing so, improve the lived experience of women whilst they are at Essex.
We want to take the opportunity today to signal the support that is available within the University and beyond for anyone who has experienced, or lived in fear of, sexual violence, harassment or assault.
If you fear, experience or witness sexual violence on any of our campuses and require immediate support, please contact the Security team.
Director of People and Culture, University of Essex
Alix Langley joined Essex in September 2021 as the Director of People & Culture. People & Culture includes the Employee Relations and Reward team, Workplace Health & Safety and Wellbeing, Organisational Development and Inclusion, who deliver services to staff and students and are responsible for the People Supporting Strategy to 2025.
Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex
Anthony has been the Vice-Chancellor since 2012 and is a Professor of Politics and International Relations. His research focused on European and British foreign and security policy, and for four years Anthony was the Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Union.