Hundreds of american studies students have mistakenly received an email detailing sensitive information about extenuating circumstances requests.
Some 320 American Studies students received the email on Thursday night, with an attached spreadsheet detailing the reasons individual students were granted extenuating circumstances.
The spreadsheet included individual names, student ID numbers, and descriptions of why students had applied for extenuating circumstances. Extenuating circumstances mark a recognition of issues and life events that can impact a student’s studies.
Some were so explicit they revealed mental health issues, victims of crime and medical procedures.
A subsequent email was sent to students shortly after which asked students to delete the first email without opening or reading the attachment.
In a statement the university said the email had been “mistakenly sent” to 320 undergraduate students in the american studies school.
They said: “This clearly should not have happened and the university apologises unreservedly.
“The university has launched an urgent enquiry and is offering support to everyone affected. Anyone needing support should call 01603 592761.”
Students have described feeling angry and violated by the email.
Fourth year american literature and creative writing student Megan Baynes said she opened the email “hoping it might be a spreadsheet of our final grades” but “felt sick when I saw my name with my personal circumstances on the first page.”
She said: “The spreadsheet had really personal information for me, and for others.
“This whole situation is a total violation of trust. I trusted my department to handle my extenuating circumstances in a sensitive manner, instead they have quite literally put them on show for the world to see.
“Luckily my situation is known by most of my friends and family and I am grateful for that. I can’t imagine how it would feel if information had been leaked that I hadn’t told people. However, there are people across the school I hadn’t told, and it’s humiliating.”
A third-year student studying american literature and creative writing – who wished to be anonymous – added: “I deleted the email before reading it, but now I don’t know if I’m on there or not. Potentially people could have access to really personal stuff about me, maybe people I don’t know or wouldn’t want to have this information. I don’t understand how this could happen.”
Undergraduate Education Officer Theo Antoniou Phillips called the email “a shocking and utterly unacceptable data breach that should never have happened.”
He said: “There are questions that the university needs to answer both about this case itself and the antiquated underpinning systems in the hubs that result in cases like this being logged on rudimentary excel files in the first place.
“It is particularly galling given that students are required to divulge sensitive information to have an EC upheld, so the least the university can do is keep their data safe. In this case UEA’s ‘do it on the cheap until it goes wrong’ approach will have had devastating results for the students concerned and has to change.”
Ed Roser, a third-year in the school, said: “Although it was clearly an innocent mistake it shouldn’t have happened. A lot of people are now in possession of details about others that they shouldn’t have. I was meant to be on that list but I can only thank my poor memory for sending in forms that my personal problems aren’t in other people’s hands.”
Willem Tapper, a second year American literature and English literature student said: “This is unforgivable. I don’t understand how things like this accidentally happen.”
Welfare community and diversity officer Jo Swo called the situation “a real slap in the face to students who have sought support.”
She said: “Students will be rightly furious that something like this could happen- and given the nature of the personal detail revealed in the email we would advise any student affected to contact both the Student Support Service and the SU for support- and we’ll be urging the university to guarantee that a spike in demand for support caused by this failure will be resourced properly.”
Ms Swo added that the SU wanted to “reassure students that the SU Advice Centre is free, confidential and completely independent from the university for anyone seeking any support during this time.”