Vice-Chancellor's letter: Consent and Harassment

There have been deeply concerning events recently in towns and cities across the UK, in which people, including students, have found themselves vulnerable and needing medical treatment in suspected or proven spiking incidents while on a night out. Even more sadly, in the past year alone, we have seen a number of national, high profile cases in which women have been killed. We cannot assume our University and our city are immune to such incidents, and we should not be complacent.  

As an institution, we have been thinking about what we can do to help keep our people safe, and not put the onus on students, particularly women or those who are vulnerable, to protect themselves. This week we have launched a new training course to all HE students, focusing on the issues of consent and harassment. The course provides current, inclusive training on sexual consent, communication, relationships, and bystander intervention.

This course is aimed at equipping our students with the right information to protect themselves and others and is how we are trying to change the culture among those whose behaviour and attitudes threaten the safety of others. This is an important step in addressing the cause of these types of incidents. 

We have also been working closely with our Union of Students, which has launched a campaign called Consent is…. This started with events across our campuses in December, alongside our Security team.  

There are other measures in place across the University, to help prevent incidents and support victims of assault: 

We are working closely with the Union of Students, local authorities, and police, on the safety of the cities and towns in which our students live, study, and socialise 

There are also simple ways we can help each other, by looking out for our friends and making sure they get home safely after a night out, seeking medical help if it appears that someone has been spiked or assaulted, and reporting this to the venue and police.  

We can also have a big impact on preventing these issues and changing the culture by calling out unacceptable behaviour where we see it happening, even at what some might consider to be a ‘harmless’ level. Misogyny and sexist or humiliating language and behaviour is never acceptable, and any excuses that it’s ‘just a joke’ must be rejected.  

With the dark nights now upon us and the party season just beginning, it’s a timely moment to remind everyone of these issues. As an educational institution, we know there is always more to learn, so I am urging all students to take this opportunity, be part of the change, and help to make things safer for everyone.  

Kind regards,
Professor Kathryn Mitchell DL