I’m sure everybody who read the front page of Issue 374 was as appalled and shocked as I was. UEA left a student who alleges she was sexually assaulted “in limbo” for five months. Amy Cooper, not her real name, told the University in November 2018 that the police had finished their investigation into the incident. At the time she didn’t realise this should have prompted UEA to start its own investigation. When the University eventually started an investigation five months later, it blamed Amy for the delay, telling her that she hadn’t informed them about the end of the police investigation. However, emails seen by Concrete show she did. A university spokesman said UEA “takes all reports or disclosures of sexual misconduct extremely seriously, and all reports are thoroughly investigated,” but added they would not comment on individual cases.
As I was reading the story in my bedroom, I felt my dissatisfaction towards the University’s evasive methods of achieving nothing of value rise to a boil. I struggle to think of a way their response could be any more of a deflection. I am even more disgusted by their handling of a matter so serious and detrimental to a student’s life.
UEA has supposedly made steps to improve student’s lives. We now have the Enlitened app, for example. Initially I was curious and hopeful at the idea of a platform where students can voice their opinions and ideas. Most importantly (and probably naively), I had hope because I thought the University was finally listening to students’ voices and making sure it considered our needs when making its agendas.
Instead, I realised the Enlitened app is another one of those strategies people in power use when they want to reduce background noise and silence students. Responses to suggestions that make it to the top tier of ‘popular ideas’ are generally polite and diplomatic but if you compile them there is a robotic and repetitive quality behind their responses.
Many are pretty similar to the response a university spokesman gave about their extremely delayed and unprofessional response in handling the alleged sexual assault case, that UEA are “continually reviewing [their] procedures”. I wholeheartedly agree with Amy’s view that glaring posters of the Never OK campaign don’t scream enough to make any real difference in the lives of people who may be affected by sexual harassment or assault. UEA’s gutless response may mean it’s doing little else to prevent such cases from happening again.
Recently, the University and Uea(su) launched the Report and Support programme, which aims to help students and staff to report and get support for incidents of “violence, harassment and hate crime”. After my disappointment with Enlitened, I am hesitant and frankly unwilling to let myself be hopeful with another glossy campaign.
The University shouldn’t treat incidents of alleged sexual harassment or assault as isolated events. It should address people’s thoughts before they become potentially harmful behaviours that could ultimately scar an individual for life. The central flaw in most of these campaigns is that they are addressing problems after incidents have allegedly occurred. Instead, UEA should allocate funds to think of prevention strategies to nip them in the bud.
When cases as serious as this are met with such indifference, it’s inevitable student’s and staff’s faith in the university will deteriorate. Enough is enough. UEA’s inaction is glaring. It’s time for the University to step up and acknowledge that they’ve largely neglected social responsibility to protect the welfare of its students whose futures and careers largely depend on UEA.