#StandByMe at the University of East Anglia Students’ Union
Wednesday 02-12-2015 - 20:15
This is a guest article by Jo Swo, Welfare, Community and Diversity Officer at UEA SU
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
Since joining the #StandByMe campaign, UEA has wasted no time in getting active! I was fortunate to inherit an incredible anti-sexual harassment campaign from my predecessor called ‘Never OK’, a culture changing and incredibly effective campaign that had both a soft impact in educating people on what sexual harassment, and a hard impact behind bars with intense training and clear reporting procedure. Since being elected, I have been tailoring the campaign to bring it into the sphere of socials and clubs, and even into the city where every student will go out.
UEA has a very active and lively student body, a few years ago SAAC (Sexual Assault Awareness Campaign) was created by students to address the ineffective reporting system and the lack of policy around sexual violence. They have since created a petition, lobbying the University to take a more proactive stance towards protecting the welfare of its students in regards to sexual assault.
Since joining the #StandByMe campaign, UEA students have taken matters further into their own hands by organising a week’s worth of ‘Carry That Weight’ events, to raise awareness of the dire situation student survivors of sexual assault and rape face on UK University campuses and to demand a change.
‘Carry That Weight is a unique campaign, predominantly led by students. The whole concept of your mattress being a burden after sexual assault is very powerful, even more so to physically carry. We wanted a visual demonstration of how survivors felt daily, people to tell the university how they feel about the current systems, and most of all improvement.’ - Asia Patel, student and event organiser
UEA was the first UK University to march in solidarity with American student, Emma Sulkowicz, and we did it again on campus, with survivors and allies standing side by side in solidarity and demanding that University shoulder their responsibility towards their students.
Once again we hosted a film screening on The Hunting Ground, and we hosted an open ‘Carry That Weight’ panel with our Vice Chancellor, David Richardson, where we highlighted the problems not just at UEA but on campuses across the country. We are fortunate enough to have a Vice Chancellor who is also a member of the UUK Task Force against Sexual Harassment on Campus, and we were very pleased he attended our panel and responded so positively.
The biggest problem we face at UEA is an inefficient reporting process via an outdated model, the Dean of Students, which is renowned by students for its long waiting times and victim blaming attitude toward students. The University also refuses to systematically record disclosures of sexual violence, unless students go through the Dean of Students, who only signpost them to the police. This attitude of delegating the responsibility of the welfare of students needs to stop.
As a survivor I am acutely aware that the topic of inadequate services can be very triggering and upsetting, especially for those currently in need of them, so it has been a priority that at every event there is a dedicated safe room with a trained advisor. It is essential that when campaigning for the rights of oppressed groups, we make these events as accessible as possible and anticipate reactions unique to each individual, and accommodate them accordingly. This is why some forms of soft campaigning, such as wearing the purple square of solidarity, can be so important and effective, as it reminds survivors who have been isolated by inadequate services and a victim-blaming society, that they are no longer alone, and they don’t have to fight alone anymore. We will stand by them.