"The news of the reforms [to the student disciplinary framework] 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… 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… This is an important success that required a lot of time and effort from students. Yet our struggle is not over.” WomCam 2019
The above is excerpted from a statement the Women’s Campaign released in 2019. It speaks about the successful reformation of The Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA). OSCCA is the central body in the University dealing with disciplinary procedures. Handling both academic and non-academic cases it commonly deals with sexual and racial harrasment. Launched in 2017, OSCCA was the University’s response to mounting concerns regarding sexual violence, the ways in which it was being (under)reported and perpetrators were (not) being disciplined. In 2019 the Women’s Campaign successfully lobbied Regent House to vote to use a balance of probabilities, the civil standard of proof, rather than the criminal standard of proof in student disciplinary matters. At the time Cambridge was one of the only universities in the UK using the criminal standard of proof which required students to provide evidence which left no room for any doubt that the alleged incident had occurred. In cases of sexual violence such ‘evidence’ is often impossible and a large part of why so few of these cases are successfully convicted in criminal courts.
This WomCam win was the culmination of years of campaigning on and around sexual violence in our University. Yet the embers of hope that “the University is changing, and that it isn’t so attached to tradition at the expense of functionality, or at the expense of the welfare of its students” have since been extinguished. In the years since then we have seen all-white panels decide cases of racism, survivors subjected to intimidation by the lawyers that their perpetrators bring to case hearings, year-long wait times, NDA’s, and gagging orders. It is clear that “our struggle is not over”; there is still no viable recourse for accountability, justice or support in the aftermath of sexual or racial harassment and violence in this University.
Whilst we must take courage and encouragement from the organising that has come before us, as I write this blog post and reflect on the work of the Women’s Campaign over the years, I am saddened. I think about all the survivors failed by OSCCA, the students who graduated before seeing any resolution, the black and brown students whose experiences of racism were judged by all-white panels, the students who turned up to ‘hearings’ alone only to meet further harassment and intimidation from the lawyer their perpetrator brought along to speak for them, the students who were retraumatised - asked again and again to repeat and relive the events that have landed them at the ‘mercy’ of OSCCA. I think about all these students, students that OSCCA harms more than it helps and I’m enraged that we’ve been talking about OSCCA for years. That OSCCA has been failing, harming and retraumatizing students for years.
In 2019 WomCam ended their statement writing that “when we are organised, we can win” - it is to this sentiment we must now return. Last year Sabbatical Officers completed substantial work consulting with students to identify OSCCA’s contemporary problems. From this work the Disciplinary Reform Action Group emerged, a hub for student campaigning on issues of sexual violence and racism at Cambridge they launched a list of demands. These demands were sent and discussed with the Head of OSCCA, Sarah D’Ambrumenil. Despite telling Varsity in 2019 that “OSCCA would welcome any opinions from the university body”, Sarah has so far been resistant to almost all the demands. Even simple suggestions like updating the website with realistic timeframes for processing cases have not been implemented - students are submitting complaints unaware that it could be several terms before any resolution is reached. This year myself, the Welfare & Community Officer and the BME Officer have tried to work with OSCCA in good faith, in return they have launched a student ‘consultation’ that completely ignores many of the Action Group’s demands.
It is time again to organise because we must win. OSCCA must work for us - we have to make it. Cambridge SU and the Women’s Campaign are ready and prepared to continue this work, your sabbatical officers are replying to OSCCA’s sham consultation; we encourage you to do the same - send in your thoughts or send in the demands. We are also organizing an action, returning to Senate House to tie ribbons onto its fences, echoing the 2019 protest. A reminder that we are still here and we are still angry. We’re asking you to join us, first at our teach-out on Thursday 24th November and then at Senate House on Monday 28th November.
"Our work is not done until every student is safe and supported in their time at University” WomCam 2019 & WomCam 2022
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With Love, Anger and Solidarity,