Over the past month, in the wake of International Womens’ Day and the murder of Sarah Everard, there has been an explosion of student protests across the United Kingdom and digital spaces. Students are protesting against various issues - all centrally focused on protecting students and community members against sexual harassment and assault. With universities still reluctant to take steps to reform policy and ignite cultural change so that students can feel safe when studying, students are clearly taking it into their own hands to pressure universities to listen to their experiences and the changes they feel are necessary.
Below find some key facts and features of some of the more prominent student protests although many are still being planned and will take place in the coming weeks.
University of Warwick
The University of Warwick Campus, The Piazza.
Started Thursday, March 18th, at 4 pm. Still ongoing.
According to quotes provided by Protect Warwick Women to Unifresher, the sit-in started on social media, where many were sharing their experiences of sexual assault on campus. The group then decided that there wasn’t enough being done, and moved towards organising an in-person protest.
According to The Boar, the University’s student-run newspaper, the sit-in was organised by the groups Shame on You Warwick and Protect Warwick Women. At the peak of their sit-in, they had a reported 350-400 student attending.
As of writing (March 23), there is a continued student presence at the piazza. On their Instagram, ‘Protect Warwick Women’ has said that they will not leave the piazza until the University provides a written commitment to adhere to their demands by September 1st. To read more about their demands, click here.
Cai Kennedy, one of the founders of Protect Warwick Women, told CoventryLive: "We were growing very, very tired of hearing news stories practically weekly sometimes daily about women who have been abused.
"After the Sarah Everard incident, women were coming forward with their stories.
"There have been protests in the past and the uni just tend to ignore it. We decided we wanted to do something that they cannot ignore, we decided we want to occupy the piazza until they do something.
"If it takes days it takes days - we'll make it so the university cannot ignore this anymore."
When asked what message they would like to spread, Protect Warwick Women told Unifresher:
“The primary message we want to share is that there are services to support survivors and we implore [you] to seek help should they need it. You will be seen, you will be believed.”
Where to Support:
University of Birmingham
The University of Birmingham Campus, The Vale Lake
March 17th, 6 pm
The vigil was held in response to the horrific death of Sarah Everard. Additionally, students responded to recent reports that female students on the Vale are being forced into cars and being followed home. According to a quote given to The Tab Birmingham from attendees, the protest aimed to empower students on campus to speak up and actively do something against the university’s general inaction. According to the protest’s fact sheet, the organisers encouraged people to join them ‘in a socially distanced protest against the sexual harassment forced on women around campus/Selly Oak’. You can read more about their demands on their Instagram.
According to The Tab Birmingham, students organised a Reclaim the Night Protest.
In response to the recent reports of harassment, Acacia Matthews, one of the organisers of the event, told The Tab Birmingham that ‘the number that is going round is about 5 or 6 girls that have been forced into cares but I fear that it is higher as not all women would feel comfortable and able to come forward about experiences like this.’
Tom Wood, a final year student at the University of Birmingham, told The Tab Birmingham that ‘the Uni’s response to the sexual abuse and harassment of students has been disgusting, negligent and reeks of misogynistic ignorance’. He added, ‘us student have to be the ones that look out for each other and this protest is the perfect way to show solidarity and support those who have undergone traumatising abuse and harassment.
Where to Support:
You can follow the group on Instagram here.
Due to COVID restrictions and many students’ worry for their health, the online frustration and protest cannot be ignored. Digital protests have been widespread. Seeing as local restrictions for gathering are still in place, many have been unable to participate physically. Instead, many have been showing their support online. See below for in-depth tracking* of popular hashtags associated with protests throughout recent days.
*Data sourced from Hoaxy. Hoaxy is an online tool used to track themes across the internet.
Protesting on campus allows students to reclaim a space that they should be safe on and that should be built for them. Of course, what the students are fighting for is for their voices to be heard and responded to by their institutions and change-makers. We, therefore, have asked a handful of students, including protest organisers, for their reasonings for protesting on campus and wanted to include these here:
“I attended the protest and it was honestly one of the most poignant and powerful events I’ve ever been to and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. I went because the statistic that 97% of women have been sexually assaulted didn’t surprise me but made me realise the silent truths women have to live with. That day I went downstairs to my female housemate and knew that she had been sexually assaulted at some time in her life just like I had. This wasn’t something that came to me all of a sudden, because I already knew - not because we’ve told each other, but because we’re women. We were able to open up about our experiences after the protest because of the impact it had on us. We and our friends were shaken for a few days after hearing so many people’s awful experiences. It’s made such a positive impact now because I feel such a connection with women I walk past knowing that we have been through a similar thing and are powerful together in solidarity.”
“We were just a normal group of women sharing stories of sexual harassment we had experienced on campus and generally in Birmingham. We realised that it had all been so normalised and therefore ignored so someone suggested a protest and we thought it would be a good way to not only get the unis attention to make some changes but also to create solidarity between all victims of sexual assault- so we no longer feel alone and ignored. We just felt tired of constantly feeling scared and really believed we could make our voices heard.”
“In 2018 I went to the first on-campus protest about the Warwick group-chat. Voicing my opinions on social media didn’t seem to be doing anything and seeing hundreds of students protest made me feel part of something bigger. It gave me hope that the university would listen. Student protests show the administration that they need to take students seriously and actually fulfil their duty of care. With Warwick, this is still ongoing but at least senior leaders are starting to realise that they’re going wrong.”
“We want to protest against our university’s policy on sexual assault and also the procedures they have in place to support survivors of sexual assault because we don’t believe they’re adequate.”
“I posted in support because I think that the University have handled sexual assault, harassment, and serious threat in the past horrendously, particularly with the group chat scandal where there was an appalling lack of discipline from the university that left many female students hesitant to join and worried for their safety. I’ve also heard a number of stories about the university offering bad, if any, support to victims and there being almost no justice for them with many attackers not being disciplined.”
Students want their voices to be elevated and heard. At RTC we’ll do all we can to spotlight student concerns and experiences. We’re also putting together a round table conference with other UK groups and organisations to build links between these groups, as new ones pop up across the country working towards the same cause. We’ll share more details of this soon.