It's Not Surprising, Is It?
Following the recent exposure of the Durham group chat, some freshers are reconsidering their future at the university. Speaking to The Tab Durham, several prospective students have not only expressed concerns about the contents of the group chat, but also about the university’s response. One student has even given up on her “dream university” and is now applying to St Andrews. Sadly, this just seems like the beginning. At the time of writing this article, more offensive group chats appear to be coming out of Durham, with social media screenshots showing misogynistic, homophobic and racist slurs. The university has so far declined to comment on these new allegations. It’s not surprising, is it? Over the last few years, there have been similar revelations at other universities - Warwick, Coventry, Derby, LSE … the list goes on. Few universities take concrete action. Students are fed up. This year’s freshers have arguably had the toughest start to university so far. They didn’t even get the chance to sit the exams that they had worked so hard for, and many were penalised by the government’s woeful excuse of an algorithm. Now, they face virtual freshers’ events, online lectures and limited opportunities for socialising outside their university halls. Why should they then have to deal with group chats like these? If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Warwick scandal, it’s that social media outrage needs to be backed up by real-life repercussions. It’s all very well and good for universities to state they have zero-tolerance policies for sexual misconduct, but how many universities properly follow through? How many perpetrators receive half-hearted sanctions? These are not the first horrific university group chats, and they won’t be the last. But Durham now has the opportunity to do the right thing. It must reassure incoming students that the university takes allegations of sexual misconduct seriously by punishing the perpetrators. Both new and returning students are about to start their most challenging academic year to date, and they deserve to feel safe. It’s not surprising that many new students are concerned. I would be too. Universities urgently need to prioritise their students, not their reputations. They need to stop worrying about social media outcry affecting their place in the rankings and instead concentrate on listening to their students, to stop them from having to raise awareness on social media. Universities need to invest more time and money into student counselling services, into employing Independent Sexual Violence Advisors and into creating effective disciplinary procedures. Above all, universities need to support survivors. Ironically, when universities prioritise their reputations above student wellbeing, they tarnish their own prestige.