Our Registrar and Secretary, Bryn Morris, tells us more about the work we’re doing, in collaboration with our SU, to make sure that all the citizens of our campuses feel safe, secure and respected.

Our campuses are special places. They are home to many of our students, as well as providing high quality learning spaces. Each has its own quirks. Loughton has charm and creativity in its walls; Southend buzzes in the centre of a busy urban area; and Colchester is like a small town in its own right, with shops, sports facilities, a bank, a cinema and a range of other leisure facilities.

Like small towns, it’s important that all the citizens of our campuses feel safe, secure and respected. Our Patrol Officers in Colchester and our Security Officers in Southend and Loughton – the Guardians of our Campuses – work hard to protect the safety of everyone who lives and works in the University. But it is just as important for everyone in our community to take responsibility for making this a place to live that is, and feels, safe. This means being respectful to other people, and also calling out behaviour that we think isn’t acceptable. Our community is a strong one. Earlier this week, we saw many students and staff gather on Square 3 at the Colchester campus to pledge to end harassment of any sort. Another event of this nature is being planned at Southend later on this term. This has given and continues to give a powerful message, and I was proud to be part of the event.

Looking after each other

We all need to look after, and out for, each other. We have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment. If standards are not met, and offences happen, we will always investigate and take action, proportionate to the circumstances of the case. Ultimately, however, our penalties can result in a student being expelled from the University. This has and does happen. The Code of Student Conduct tells you what we expect – and what could happen if behaviour falls short of these expectations.

We will also co-operate fully with the Police if an offence is committed. You might have read recently about a couple of incidents that happened on our Colchester campus. I want to reassure you that, through fast Police work, and the images captured on our CCTV cameras, two arrests have been made. We will always take steps to protect our community.

At our Southend Campus we and our Security Officers liaise closely with the Police, Town Link Radio and Southend Council’s CCTV team to work together on crime prevention and investigation. We also work with local agencies and partner organisations in Southend to address concerns about safety in and around the town centre.

We really want our campuses to be places where everyone can feel safe. If you spot something happening which worries you, then there are a number of things you can do about it. If you want to talk to someone, then there are a lot of ways of doing this. Nightline exists for students, and the Harassment Advisory Network is there for members of staff. Most importantly, anything you see or experience can be reported through our Report & Support system. We will follow up anything reported wherever we can.

Be an active bystander

You can also sign up for our Active Bystander training. This is currently delivered in Colchester, and we are hoping to extend this to Southend. We have trained over 300 staff and students so far and the numbers are growing. Maybe you have been in a situation where someone has made a sexist comment, a homophobic remark, a transphobic joke, a biphobic statement or a rape joke, and although you knew it wasn’t right, you might not have been able to intervene – perhaps through a lack of confidence, or even a fear of repercussion. This training is designed to spread knowledge about consent and the continuum of sexual violence, and to empower our community with the skills to intervene safely. This could be having a quiet word with the person making the inappropriate joke, or it could be calling it out calmly at the time, to let them know that it’s not OK.

The University and the SU work hard together to make our campuses as safe and secure as possible. Some of the things we are doing are employing more Patrol Officers so we have enough staff on our Colchester campus at night to allow them to visit the Colchester accommodation blocks, reviewing our CCTV system, buying more cameras, and making dark places lighter, as well as encouraging everyone to look after themselves and each other. In Southend, personal alarms are available free of charge from the SU Lounge and Office, Gateway Building Reception and University Square reception. The SU in Colchester has introduced enhanced door security and searches on entry to its venues, engaged volunteer Welfare Angels to work at night to take care of students leaving venues, and launched the Ask for Angela initiative. You might have seen the sniffer dogs we use as well.

A place where respect is the watchword

We held a ‘town hall’ meeting on 24 October, to which we invited representatives from across the student and staff communities to discuss further actions we could take both in promoting the message that any sort of sexual violence or harassment is not acceptable and in making our community feel as safe as possible. We received several excellent suggestions through this forum, which we are taking forward. The work doesn’t stop here, however, and we are still keen to hear more ideas. If you have something you’d like to suggest, let me know, or you can feed in through the SU.

We need your help to continue to make our University a place where respect is the watchword. Spread the word. Tell your mates. Look after each other.