On 6th February, hundreds of students turned out to join the #ShameOnYouWarwick protest over the university’s acceptance of what the Student Union called “sexism, racism and rape culture.”
Last year, 11 male students were suspended when a Facebook message group was bought to the attention of the university. It contained rape threats and messages of a racist, sexist, ableit and antisemitic nature. Amongst other things the men made horrifying remarks about how “Sometimes it’s fun to just go wild and rape 100 girls.” They openly described racism as “class.”
Two of the group were given a 10-year ban from the campus but it was reported that the students were being allowed to return after just one year, inciting fear and outrage amongst the student body. To the relief of many, a statement has been
released saying the students will not be returning in September; no thanks to the university.
Organisers of the protest stated on Facebook: "The university is sending a message this behaviour is acceptable, and the rehabilitation of those who glorify sexual violence is more important than the safety and education of those they seek to attack.” Students feel their safety was overlooked in favour of the men responsible for perpetuating sexual violence on their campus. Stuart Croft, Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor explained that the university has a “duty of care” to the eleven men, but appears to have forgotten that it also has a duty of care to victims of sexual violence and abuse. After serving only one year of their original punishment, Warwick was willing to let the students return to campus and therefore to the lives of the women they had threatened to violently rape. Megan Wain, one of the victims of the chat, spoke about the negative effects the events have had on both her mental health and academic performance, and how she no longer feels comfortable on campus.
Warwick University has not only failed Megan and the other girls discussed in the chat, but rape victims everywhere by positioning itself in solidarity with the perpetrators. It has belittled the struggles of the female victims involved and implies that this sort of behaviour is in some way defensible and will have few repercussions. Its course of action concerning the issue indicates that it takes the ‘bums on seats’ philosophy to terrifying extremes. In their view, the money gained from letting the two men continue their studies was more valuable than the welfare of other innocent students. It has taken the attention of the national news for the women to get the assurance that the men will not be re-entering their lives. In failing this group of victims, they’ve sent the message to others that they also do not deserve the justice or protection every student is entitled to.
Eleven male students of the University of Warwick were suspended after a misogynistic, racist and anti-Semitic group conversation encouraging the rape of fellow students was brought to public attention last year. However, after an appeal last week, the ban of two of the male students was reduced from a decade to merely a year causing mass uproar and disappointment in the university’s handling of the situation. Despite the institution’s confirmation that students who made rape threats will not be returning, hundreds of students are expected to march on campus to showcase their outrage.
While the entire incident raises numerous concerns regarding equality and questions of how young men are raised, the issue that lies at the root of the Warwick group chat is the prevalence of rape culture at universities and how it is dealt with. An incident at our own university wherein ‘It Happens Here’ banners were vandalised, reflect a similar problematic mindset of “#StopBlamingMen” and victim shaming. So the question to be asked is what measures can universities take not only to prevent such incidents but rather educate their student communities regarding sexual assault and the concept of consent?
At the onset, they can start by something as simple as encouraging conversation. Conversation lies at the base of the solution as it works as a teaching tool reiterating the importance of consent and breaking away the ‘taboo shackles’ of sexual assault. Universities can hold educative seminars teaching students important values of equality and respect. Not only can they provide wellbeing services to victims of abuse and assault, but moreover ensure that a campus environment is created wherein assaults cease to exist altogether.
Fostering that environment starts by not tolerating any form of speech that perpetuates a hateful, unsafe ideology like the one of the Warwick group chat. Universities that claim to ensure the wellbeing of their students ought to have their actions reflect that sentiment. The day that such speech is no longer disregarded as merely ‘locker room talk’ or ‘banter’ and perpetuators are held accountable for their actions, is the day that universities take a stand for the safety and equality of all students on their campus and take a step towards ending rape culture altogether.