When I first came across the University of Essex, as a recent drama school graduate in Barcelona, it was presented to me as the place of the ambitious and the bold. This motto and the promise of one of the most international and diverse campuses in the UK are what ultimately led me to choose the University of Essex to study my BA in Drama and Literature.

The early days

My first three months at Essex, in addition to the usual – and wonderful – freshers experience the university provides, were deeply marked by two incidents.

  1. The first was an incident I saw from the window in my South Towers 11th floor student accommodation during one of the first FED nights of the academic year: a girl screaming for help at the top of her lungs as a man tried to grab her arm and take her somewhere. What shook me to my core was the fact that up to three bystanders passed the pair by, and none of them cared to check on—let alone help—this person who was in obvious distress.

    Once I had put on my coat and my shoes and ran down the 11 stories of towers, racking up everyone who crossed my path to come help me, the pair were nowhere to be seen. I remember walking up to security only to be told that they had received multiple reports and that they were looking into it. Rather slowly, if you ask me. This prompted me to start looking for that girl I heard screaming, by myself, around campus, past midnight. Please don’t do this on your own!

  2. This is when the second incident occurred, and it has forever marked my experience at Essex came into play. As I was drifting off past South Courts to continue my search, this guy stopped me. He checked on me, wanted to know why I looked so anxious, and then walked me back to towers whilst listening to my recount of events of the night. This care, this sense of community, of being supported, listened to, and empathised with... This is what Essex has come to mean to me.

    The day after this incident, I told my drama friends what had happened, only to discover—to everyone’s horror—that everyone had a similar story they had either witnessed or lived on campus. The more people I talked to, the more stories, the more referrals, and ‘you should look into this and that’s. After a solid week of listening to student stories about sexual harassment on campus, I decided to write a play. And this is how 'Plucked' was born.


'Plucked' was a play about sexual harassment cases at the University of Essex and an exploration of the r**e culture in UK universities. It explored the patterns in predatory behaviours, the difficulties and administrative gaps when going through the university’s Report and Support system, the corporate and dehumanising tone of this institution when dealing with traumatised students, and faulty booking systems when trying to engage with programmes such as the ‘Bystander Training’. However, 'Plucked' was also a platform for students’ voices and a celebration of our community, the Colchester campus community, and of our capacity to come together and face these threats to make campus safer and kinder for everyone.

Marina Cusi Sanchez stands by the Lakeside Theatre blackboard which displays her play, "Plucked".

The show’s premiere at the Hex brought hordes of audiences that none of us could have ever anticipated. We ran out of chairs; people were standing at the back, on the first floor, on the stairs. We had to hold a second – improvised – run of the play to accommodate those who couldn’t find a free space to see the first run of the play that night. Students had been at the very heart of the project, from the stories being told on stage to the drawings that formed our set and background to the sheer support for the project and everything that came after.

This play was a catalyst—the spark that lit a fire that took campus over for well over a year. The spark that ignited the 'We Are Tired' protests, through which our colleague Arran Wylde-Eccles was invited to rewrite the university’s codes of conduct regarding sexual harassment on campus.

Marina Cusi Sanchez addresses a crowd on the squares with other protestors holding placards stating "we are tired".

Feminism, activism and the fight for a safer campus

Since then, my artistic practice and my life at Essex have been intrinsically linked to feminism, activism, and the fight for a safer campus for all. In 2019, 'Plucked' transferred to the Lakeside Theatre’s main stage, and in 2020, I brought my durational art installation/participatory performance 'Re-writing HERstory' to three venues on campus: the Albert Sloman library, the Lakeside Theatre, and Art Exchange.

Marina Cusi Sanchez stands on Square 3 outside the Security Helpdesk pointing to a banner which reads "The opposite of feminism is ignorance".

In 2021, I was elected as the Colchester campus Women’s Officer, a role that allowed me not only to push for the policies that myself and the community had been advocating for and asking for years but also to engage with the on-campus community and the SU in a diverse array of ways. I believe every person who has ever served as the Women’s Officer on campus has brought something different to the role, based on their special set of skills, knowledge, and experience. Once I was established in the role, I collaborated with different organisations, societies, and clubs at the University of Essex to build different art projects on campus to engage with the community and platform their voices. I teamed up with the SU to build the 'Catcallers’ Wall of Shame', shifting the attention, blame, and shame of catcalling from the victim towards the perpetrator by showcasing quotes submitted by people within the community when asked about their experiences with catcallers. This art installation served as a background to the 'Reclaiming Public Spaces' march we led on campus to protest against violence towards women in public spaces.

During that time, I also collaborated with Art Exchange to create a series of banner-making workshops in preparation for International Women’s Day 2022, where the community and our allies came together to sew banners we’d use during IWD while discussing the change we wanted to see happening on campus. After these flags we created adorned Square 3 during our march around campus on March 8th, we created the 'Flag Up Our Rights' exhibition at The Hex, where they were displayed as pieces of art.

A Feminist gathering in The Hex

Throughout that particular International Women’s Week back in 2022, I facilitated daily art workshops, such as pin-making, tote bag stamping, and feminist-wreath-making workshops, followed by other events such as the ‘Know Your Rights’ workshop with the Law society, and the self-defence class facilitated by a member of the campus security team. Later that year, I curated a 'Feminist Theatre Evening' in collaboration with the Lakeside Theatre, showcasing a total of eight feminist-themed performance pieces by students and staff of the University of Essex.

My time as Women’s Officer was spent advocating for a safer campus, asking for better lighting conditions, the return of our safety bus and Nightline services, and a revision of the Report and Support system. During that year, there were many achievements brought by Community Officers, such as the opening of the Communities Common room that Harry Evans, Trans Officer, fought tirelessly for, the implementation of mandatory consent training we had been desperately begging for by the hand and efforts of VP Welfare Dorothy Akuamoa, and many others I don’t have enough pages to mention.

With the end of my term as Women’s Officer in June 2022 came my graduation from the BA Drama and Literature course that I had started four years prior. Since then, I have been working at Art Exchange as one of their Gallery Experience Assistants, the Lakeside Theatre as a Front of House Assistant, and founded my very own theatre company, Mad, Who?

Mad, Who?

Mad, Who? (relating to the Madonna/Whore complex) is a multicultural theatre company exploring human rights issues from a feminist lens, creating multilingual work that has been touring the UK since its birth in 2022. Our first show, ‘The ‘’S’’ Is Silent’, a play about womanhood during fascism in Spain, currently a finalist to the Offies Awards 2024 in their Best Online Production category, has been showcased in iconic venues such as The Pleasance Theatre, The Bush Theatre, The Space, The Courtyard Theatre, and came back ‘home’ to the Lakeside Theatre this past November 2023.

With Mad, Who? I have also been facilitating workshops that revolve around feminism, sustainability, and education through the arts for different organisations around Essex, such as Eastern Angles Theatre Company, the Essex Book Festival, and the LIFTS department at the University of Essex.

Our last and newest show, WITCHUNT, which premiered at A Pinch of VAULT festival in London this past month of February, explores the phenomenon in which powerful men are co-opting the concept of a 'witch hunt', a historical event that harmed women across the world, to victimise themselves against women's accusations of sexual violence perpetrated by them.

Marina Cusi Sanchez and her cast sit on the floor of the stage at The Glitch in rehearsals for the play Witchunt.

After the success found with Mad, Who?, I am really excited to ‘come back home’ to where everything started and give back to the community that has been supporting me, my projects, and my journey all these years through a series of workshops I will be facilitating in collaboration with Art Exchange, Essex Femsoc, and the Colchester campus Women’s Officer in preparation for International Women’s Day 2024.

Thank you

It has been an honour to be invited to share and reflect on my time as an activist at Essex and on my legacy to this campus and community, so I would like to use this opportunity to thank every single person and group who has directly or indirectly helped me and my different teams achieve everything that I’ve described throughout this piece. Without you and your unwavering support, advice, time, and effort, none of this would have been possible.

International Women's Day and Women's History Month 2024

Marina will be running three feminist craft workshops for students as we prepare for International Women's Day 2024:

Feminist Badge Making

Thursday 22 February, 6pm to 8pm, Art Exchange (the room next door – 5N.151)

Find out more.

Feminist Embroidery

Thursday 29 February, 6pm to 8pm, Art Exchange (the room next door – 5N.151)

Find out more.

Feminist Placard Making

Thursday 7 March, 6pm to 8pm, Art Exchange (the room next door – 5N.151)

Find out more.