Warwick University Must Take Stronger Action To Tackle Its Campus Rape Culture

Across the country, rape culture pervades campuses and videos of racism in halls go viral, while universities continue to fail and further marginalise the students who need them most.
Russell Boyce / Reuters

This week, the University of Warwick confirmed that two men who were part of the infamous group chat that explicitly referenced raping women, hating “n**gas, jews and corbyn”, as well as homophobic, transphobic and ableist comments, would no longer be returning to the institution after the University reduced their initial 10-year ban to just one year.

Although the immediate fear surrounding their return has now been reduced, the fact that the University wanted to allow these men back on campus – particularly in light of the creation of a second chat in which some of the boys asserted “let’s do it all again”, together with their ongoing access to University-owned accommodation – is a damning indictment of its permissive acceptance of racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia and transphobia.

Several of the women who were targeted in the conversation have spoken up about the evident flaws in the disciplinary process. Women who had rape threats made against them in the group were questioned by the lead investigator, a member of staff who was appointed to this position despite the fact that this person’s job is centred around protecting the reputation of the University. This is not just a blatant conflict of interest – it represents a quite staggering failure of empathy and basic common sense on management’s part. From the moment that this incident came to light, the University has consistently failed to hear the voices of the students targeted by these acts of violence and neglected its duty of care to students, leading to marginalised groups feeling unsafe on campus.

Through these actions, the University has turned a blind eye to a rampant rape culture on our campus. This a problem of huge scale and severity at Higher Education institutions (a recent survey by the NUS Women’s Campaign found that one in seven women students has faced sexual or physical assault on campus). They have permitted racism to be further validated on a campus where students of colour have repeatedly highlighted their experiences through the #WarwickSpeakOut campaign. When over a quarter of Jewish students nationally have spoken about anti-semitic abuse they have experienced without consequence on social media, how many times must students be forced to relive their trauma for our universities to take serious action?

The Students’ Union at Warwick aims to ensure that the answer to that question is now. Following a meeting with students about these events, we are calling on the University to:

  1. Increase investment in support for the survivors of this and other cases of sexual violence.
  2. Drastically reduce waiting times for mental health services, and provide culturally competent support for students of colour and survivors of sexual violence.
  3. Instigate a proper, meaningful review of the disciplinary system.
  4. Write an open apology to staff, alumni, prospective students, current students, and - most importantly - the survivors.
  5. Ensure that management is held accountable for the actions surrounding the investigation.

Women, students of colour, Jewish students and LGBTQUA+ students at Warwick have been utterly failed by an institution which is supposed to protect and support them. By fulfilling these demands, management will take a small step towards restoring our trust in Warwick.

However, make no mistake: from my time as President of Warwick Anti-Racism Society, Co-President of Warwick Anti-Sexism Society and a member of the committee for the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, these are not isolated incidents which are specific to Warwick. Across the country, rape culture pervades campuses and videos of racism in halls go viral, while universities continue to fail and further marginalise the students who need them most. Warwick must do better. Higher Education – and society at large – must do better.

Larissa Kennedy is Education Officer and Deputy President at Warwick Students’ Union, and on the Committee for the NUS Black Students’ Campaign