A St Andrews society has launched a petition to make consent workshops mandatory
The petition hopes to combat sexual assault and abuse within all areas of the university community
A group of St. Andrews students has begun a petition to "Address the state of gender-based violence in St Andrews". They argue that gender-based violence is endemic in 'British universities', including St Andrews, and are looking to combat issues such as sexual assault, sexism and harassment.
They hope to address gender-based violence by introducing formal measures which would be enforced by the university. These include 'consent and bystander training [to be] a compulsory part of Matriculation' as well as mandatory consent workshops for 'first years, elected representatives of the SRC and SSC, all sports presidents (and encouraging workshops for specific sports clubs), all presidents and secretaries of affiliated societies, and all Union staff, specifically bartenders and bouncers'.
The university does not yet have mandatory training for all these groups, although in the 2016-2017 academic year Uni Hall, Sallies, John Burnet, ABH, Macintosh, Regs and Sallies took attendance during workshops.
Additionally, the petition calls for new students to engage with the 'Sexual Misconduct Policy as part of the matriculation process'. Students are currently required to sign an honour code, so this sexual misconduct policy would be introduced as a further document on matriculation screens. The society also calls for 'the Union to review current Union policy regarding nights out and sexual misconduct', as well as asking that the university addresses the 'prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus and the culture that perpetuates it.'
The petition calling for certain sports societies to receive this mandatory consent training may imply that sports culture, and indeed sinners nights, are a potential to contributor to aspects of sexual harassment culture within St Andrews.
Finally, the society also want to organise a meeting with the Vice-Chancellor and other executives of the university on how best to enact these policies. Currently the petition has 340 signatures, 160 away from their goal. The society plan to use the petition as documentation for a motion to be brought to the Students’ Association Joint Councils (SRC and SSC), which would enshrine it in union law.
The petition is in part connected to a 'Reclaim the Night' march , which will be taking place on 24th November throughout the day, starting with a number of activities in Club 601 including a consent workshop culminating in the march in the evening.
Two of the organisers Alexandra Holker and Gabriella Romney have commented on the motivation behind the petition and the march itself:
Alexandra said that, "St Andrews needs to change. The prevalence of gender-based violence in our community is widespread. We are demanding preventative education in the form of consent workshops, lobbying from the union and university and for the senior members of the University to address this problem. There is so much that needs to be done in order to make St Andrews a safer place."
Gabriella commented: “In my years at St Andrews, I have witnessed far too many instances of complacency and inaction when it comes to gender-based violence. While I recognise there are no easy solutions and more can always be done, this petition marks an essential first step to not only create a safer environment, but to shift the conversation.”
A spokesperson for the university said: “St Andrews has adopted the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe toolkit and all staff have been provided with resource to help identify and address instances of GBV. All our new students are expected to attend inductions which address consent and sexual misconduct. In addition, we hold regular consent workshops for students and halls of residence wardens, and these are delivered in collaboration with Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit. St Andrews is amongst the first universities to engage in this approach.
“We are already committed to developing further appropriate action in this area, through the work of the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion committee and by supporting a working group led by the Students’ Association Director of Wellbeing and Student Services. This working group will help us continue to develop and shape responses that reflect our clear commitment to address GBV and harassment, building on best practice in the sector. We encourage staff and students to continue to engage with these collaborative forums and processes.
“We believe however that GBV can be most effectively addressed by strengthening the general culture of responsibility and respect which is fundamental to our identity, and this one of the key aims at the heart of our new University Strategy.”
Cover photo credit: Sarah Collinson