The reformed student disciplinary framework has passed at Cambridge following a ballot open to the members of Regent House between the 18th and 28th June 2019. These changes are the result of many more years and work by students and members of staff to acknowledge the existing conditions and actively change the attitude towards sexual harassment and assault in the University.
The student disciplinary procedure from October 2019 will be OIA-compliant, in line with using the civil standard of proof (as used by all other universities in the country) and feature an appeals process that does not require the meeting of the Septemviri. Instead, the student disciplinary procedure has an appeals process that must be completed within 30 days, a dedicated Investigator who will gather all the evidence available for an impartial panel to make a decision during a process that is clearly distinguished as a civil proceeding and not a court of law. Intimate partner violence is now included under the procedure, and there are clearly defined rules of behaviour for students. These changes also introduce the requirement of training for decision-makers and investigators involved with the process.
The reformed student disciplinary procedure does not represent a radical change to the ways in which a place of work or study can settle contraventions of the rules of behaviour. It shows that the University will reinforce its recent publicity campaigns about ending harassment and assault on campus with material change when pressured by students.
The news of the reforms passing is well-received by the Women’s Campaign. From its inception in the 1970s, the Women’s Campaign has fought for liberation from interpersonal and structural violence towards women. Prior to the 2014 Cambridge Speaks Out report, written by the former Women’s Officer Lauren Steele, the University were able to contend in committees that sexual violence did not occur at Cambridge. The work of the Women’s Campaign influenced the University to launch its Breaking the Silence campaign, a series of initiatives in 2017 that pledged to end harassment and assault among students and staff. For too long, students have been denied the choice of institutional justice due to the absence of a functional disciplinary procedure that did not take into account the realities of how assault and harassment functions in an educational environment.
We are disappointed that it took this long for changes to the disciplinary procedure to be approved by the University and that the Women’s Campaign has had to spend such a considerable amount of its time navigating the often impenetrable governance structures of the University. We hope this recent win for students and the members of staff who supported our work indicates a willingness in the University to listen to its students, as we have consistently campaigned for and evidenced the need to create a University that is safe and accessible for all students. This is an important success that required a lot of time and effort from students. Yet our struggle is not over: we must fight for functional disciplinary procedures at every Cambridge college and funding for preventive measures, such as bystander intervention training and consent workshops, as well as increased awareness of our Sexual Assault and Harassment Advisor among the student body.
Our work is not done until every student is safe and supported in their time at University. Thank you to the previous women’s officers for ensuring that our liberation work was not lost with the high turnover of the student population and to all members of the University who won these reforms. When we are organised, we can win.