Sexual misconduct on campus: What now, and what next?

A year on from the Universities Australia ‘Respect. Now. Always’. report, Claire Ince looks at what UON is doing in response to issues of sexual misconduct on campus.

Universities Australia’s ‘Respect. Now. Always.’ report regarding sexual misconduct, harassment and assault on campus was released exactly twelve months ago, and is continuing to play a pivotal role in changing the priorities of universities across the nation.

While it is difficult to ascertain whether or not the University of Newcastle is doing enough in response to the report, it cannot be denied that effort has been made.

At a talk held by the university today, Professor Liz Burd (Pro Vice-Chancellor of Learning and Teaching at UON) stated that the University was “ashamed with the fact that any student had reported they had been assaulted whether on campus or in the wider community”.

In response to the report, UON’s actions so far have been centred on both prevention of assault and providing effective support processes for students.

Burd stated that the preventative measures were largely community-focused, noting that educating people on consent, as well as guiding bystanders on appropriate actions to take has been a top priority.

In terms of providing effective support, Burd said that at this stage, “one hundred first responders in the uni have been trained”, and 300 staff have taken a ‘Responding to Disclosures’ course.

In response to the report and the surveys used to produce it, Burd stated that their efforts are all about catering to the students, and ensuring that incidents only needed to be disclosed once, rather than having to be re-disclosed each and every time appointments or extensions are applied for.

Work on new policies which allow the University to separate instances of “Academic” and “Non-Academic” misconduct and to act in the instance that someone is believed to be guilty of sexual misconduct and assault is also well underway.

As for the future, Professor Burd urged that the University is committed to continuing the review, and is working on providing international students with free translation services, redesigning support webpages, and obtaining an independent review of the UON counselling service.

Professor Burd also announced that major reviews are underway regarding sexual misconduct and hazing in the University’s colleges and residences, an area that had been a significant focus of the report last year.

In response to scrutiny over the lack of similar reviews at the Ourimbah residences, Burd said that while the majority of evidence of sexual misconduct and hazing in colleges and residences came from Callaghan campus, similar work at Ourimbah would soon begin.

The formation of the Vice Chancellor Advisory Group was also credited, and Professor Burd assured that it would continue for the foreseeable future, as “we don’t imagine cultural change happens quickly”.

In a statement issued to Yak Media regarding the work of UON so far, UON Women’s Collective says that they are happy with the progress, but will continue to push the university to improve.

“Following the panel discussions with university support staff yesterday, we’re happy with the university’s action on seeking further student engagement on their continued development of programs and policies to address sexual misconduct, and their recognition that they have significant room to continue improving.

“However, their statements lack deadlines so this action remains to be seen and it’s important that we (as students and staff) continue engaging with the university to push them to continue developing better programs and policies that adequately represent us and address sexual misconduct.”

For more information about UON’s current policies and access to extra resources, click here.

Feature Image: Universities Australia

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