Lola Olufemi, CUSU women's officerUniversity of Cambridge

The University has today established a policy on staff-student relationships, marking the university’s first formal approach to relations between students and employed figures of responsibility, along with a host of other initiatives to convey the university’s ‘zero tolerance’ stance on harassment and sexual assault.

The new campaign, titled ‘Breaking the Silence’, will be formally launched on 24 October, and primarily takes the form of a website,, which will collate existing policies and channels for help with new initiatives to be rolled out this term.

This follows a successful bid for funding to HEFCE in March which secured an additional £87,000 for the university to invest in such initiatives, the establishment of the central Office of Student Conduct, Complaints and Appeals (OSCCA) and the posting of the new position of ‘sexual assault advisor’ in the University Counselling Service in September.

Breaking the Silence is the first major campaign under the tenure of new university vice-chancellor Stephen Toope. Professor Toope told Varsity: “Cambridge prides itself on being a leader, academically in terms of research, educationally. It has to be a social leader as well, tackling tough problems such as sexual harassment. And I think that the leadership of the University has to send the right signals and has to be committed to directly addressing these challenges.

“Dealing with sexual harassment is a responsibility for everyone in the community. People won’t come forward, there won’t be an open discussion, unless there’s an environment in which people feel at least relatively safe. So each and every one of us has to try hard to create that environment.”

Lola Olufemi, Cambridge University Students’ Union women’s officer said: “Sexual misconduct is often viewed as something that’s difficult to tackle but difficult problems are not unsolvable problems. A lot of people think that because sexual misconduct happens on such a large scale individual actions make no difference.

“But one of the best ways to challenge anything is to start small and to challenge in the spaces you’re in. That is how you begin to change a culture. That is the message I want students to take away from the campaign.”

The staff-student relationship policy, released this afternoon in The Reporter, comes after a Freedom of Information Request submitted to all UK universities by The Guardian in March found that 32% of UK universities, including the University of Cambridge, had no formal policy on emotional or sexual relationships between students and staff. The report also found that there had been 6 formal allegations of staff-on-student harassment at the University from the 2011-12 academic year to March 2017, with 5 subsequent investigations and 2 staff members reportedly leaving or changing jobs.

The new policy “discourages” intimate relations of any kind between students and members of staff, “particularly where there is a real or perceived conflict of interest”. It is stipulated that “any such relationships have to be disclosed by the staff member to the University and the staff member must withdraw from any professional duties that could lead to accusations of unfair or preferential treatment.”

The flagship project of the new policy is the ‘Intervention Initiative’, a program of workshops focusing on equipping students to safely intervene in situations that may lead to harassment or sexual assault.

A series of four two-hour workshops will be trialled in Michaelmas and Lent at seven colleges in Cambridge. Jan Brighting, facilitator of the Intervention Initiative at Pembroke College, said: “Through the Intervention Initiative, we will try to give students the confidence, in a safe environment, to practise bystander intervention skills so they can challenge or avert a situation.

“Being a bystander is not about walking up the street and seeing a situation and tackling it, it’s about making an intervention, a small distraction, within a student’s friendship group - it’s not about putting people at risk at all.

“It’s about changing and challenging some of the social norms around behaviours, and giving students the skills and confidence to do that.”

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