If you think back to your open day for Newcastle University, when you asked about fun things to do in the city, it’s very unlikely your guide recommended student council.
Having attended a few meetings, it’s not difficult to see why: the appeal tends to start and end with the free pizza. You can imagine, then, the excitement generated among more regular attendants when they were told Vice-Chancellor Chris Day would be coming to a session.
It was a timely appearance, given the controversy in which the university has been embroiled in recent months. At the end of last year, a student convicted for stalking and revenge porn was allowed back onto the same campus as his ex-girlfriend and victim. Chris Day’s response via email was to worry about “another ‘Warwick’ about to happen on our own campus” – a reference to the infamous group chat where rape jokes were exchanged – and the damage that would inflict on “our precarious reputation”. The opportunity to ask him what was going to change, and to hold him to account, was desperately needed.
It was also entirely squandered, thanks to two main problems.
The odds of shocking Day into more genuine replies were practically nil
First, the questions were all given to Chris Day in advance, meaning he had time to prepare answers. What might have been answered with awkward silence – which would have had the double advantage of revealing the lack of action being taken against sexual harassment and shaming Day into action – was instead filled with buzzwords. Without even any questions from the floor, the odds of shocking Day into more genuine replies were practically nil.
Second, there was Day’s attitude. His excuse for not taking a tougher line against harassment and assault was that no other universities were doing the same. Herd mentality is no way to enact effective social change: the boldest direction of travel is often the one without precedent. Chris Day’s appearance at student council made attendants almost miss the discussions over recycling bins.
Last modified: 24th February 2020