This week, Brian and Eda question whether our students feel safe.
From a young age, we’ve all learnt about safety. Whether it’s “come on guys, get firewise!” or “make it click!”, our culture has taught us that personal safety is paramount, and for good reason. Yet, when we become older, we take less opportunities to put safety into action. Our everyday social interactions introduce volatile and unpredictable hazards, and it makes the question of how we can implement personal safety harder.
Having said that, it’s not an onus we should entirely own ourselves. Our society is inherently based on power, and as a result, we can often feel powerless. In these situations, it is hard to feel like we own ourselves, let alone our safety.
Every student at this university has a right to feel safe (except, maybe those people who jaywalk upper Symonds Street). Okay, definitely even them. Whether it’s an action or words, no matter how major or minor, we should not feel uncomfortable to arrive at University any day. It should be a space of zero tolerance for unsafe behaviour.
And theoretically, it is. “Unacceptable discrimination, including racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, homophobia and transphobia, has no place in our University,” says a $200 banner print job. Yet does that really prevent it from happening? The problem is not whether the University will say they do or don’t have a tolerance for discrimination, but how safe students feel to report on such issues, and how much faith we have that complaints will be taken seriously.
The recent news about the resignation of the former UoA Head of Music School due to allegations of sexual assault reveals that it took well over a decade for the former student to lodge a formal complaint to the University following years of abuse. It begs the question why it took so long, and how many others had been targeted over this long period of time and remained silent. Every student who considers making a complaint about someone runs the risk of being retraumatised through its lengthy and emotionally-draining process and the fear of retaliation from the perpetrator. In any case of discrimination, bullying and harassment, the existing power dynamic gets in the way of us doing something as seemingly easy as ‘speaking up’. For some students, it may be easier to keep a stiff upper lip and put up with the behaviour and hope that over time, things get better, or that they will simply get through it.
While the University may have a ‘Zero Tolerance’ policy, some students cannot afford to be intolerant.
This week, Whakarongo Mai captures a glimpse of what some students think about how the University deals with bullying, harrassment and discrimination. A common thread of belief is the lack of awareness around how the University treats these cases, and for those who have gone through it, there is a sense of dissatisfaction. In either case, neither actively promotes the safety of students.
Our question is, how will the University meaningfully promote a trauma-informed complaints process that focuses on students’ and staff members’ safety, empowerment and rehabilitation, and the prevention of further harm? It’s not good enough if students perceive the complaints process as an operation line of conflict resolution that leaves complainants to hang dry when there is nothing more the University can legally do.
Saying ‘Zero Tolerance’ assumes that any person experiencing danger or discomfort has nothing to lose in reporting the issue. For those who come forward, it takes tremendous courage to do so, and for those who are not ready to come forward, it takes enormous strength just to get through the day.
We stand by anyone targeted by discriminatory, predatory and abusive behaviour and encourage you to seek help when you are in a position to do so.
Eda Tang (she/her) and Brian Gu (he/him)
Co-Editors of Craccum 2021
1737 – offers free 24/7 call and text services for immediate crisis support from a trained counsellor, or referral to the appropriate service.
AUSA Advocacy – offers free, confidential and professional support and advice, independent from the University: http://www.ausa.org.nz/support/advocacy/
Te Papa Manaaki – Campus Care is a safe, confidential, free and optionally anonymous service that can help you with mental health issues, family violence, sexual harassment, bullying and harrassment, and financial issues: https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/students/student-support/te-papa-manaaki-campus-care.html
HELP – offers private and confidential sexual violence support services. They have a drop-in service on the first and third Wednesday of every month, on level 3 of the Kate Edger Building, City Campus. You can also call them 24/7 on 09 623 1700. https://www.helpauckland.org.nz/