Students tied purple ribbons to the gates of Senate House todayFelix Peckham

Around 50 campaigners gathered to tie ribbons to the gates of Senate House prior to this afternoon’s discussion on reforming the disciplinary procedure.

In total, the campaigners planned to tie more than 800 ribbons, representing each signatory of a recent open letter published by CUSU Women’s Campaign, although CUSU women’s officer-elect Claire Sosienski Smith joked that they were “not counting”. The letter calls on the University to “no longer rely on a criminal standard of proof” in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence, and endorses the ‘balance of probabilities’ standard used in the majority of UK higher education institutions.

Speaking to Varsity about the significance of the ribbon tying, CUSU Women’s Officer Lola Olufemi said, “we hope this signals to survivors our continued support, that they are seen and heard by the Women’s Campaign.”

Addressing gathered campaigners, Olufemi said, “we do this to mark all of the survivors that have slipped through the cracks.”

Students tied ribbons before entering the Senate House discussionFelix Peckham

Campaigners showed solidarity through tying ribbons in honour of survivors of sexual violence and reading extracts from feminist poetry and theory, including works by Audre Lorde and Jenny Holzer, as well as the open letter itself.

Bridget Shaffrey, Graduate Union women’s officer, told Varsity that the tying of these ribbons mark a “symbolic gesture” towards the University. She described herself as “optimistic” about this afternoon’s discussion.

In order to bring about today’s crucial Senate House discussion, CUSU Women’s Campaign encouraged 10 academics to write to the University draftsmen.

The recent push for disciplinary reform follows the launch of the University’s Breaking the Silence campaign in October. The campaign, which was launched to tackle harassment and sexual assault, saw the University introduce its first staff-student relationship policy; as well as a series of workshops focusing on equipping students to safely intervene in situations that may lead to harassment or sexual assault.

Writing on Facebook in advance of this afternoon’s ribbon tying event, the Women’s Campaign cautioned their view that Breaking the Silence is a “meaningless exercise if it does not include formal procedures that students can access as well as fully funded support services”.

Claire Sosienski-Smith (pictured above), CUSU women's officer-elect, participated in the event with current CUSU women's officer Lola Olufemi and 50 other students Felix Peckham

Stella Swain, who was among those gathered outside Senate House, said that the push to reform the disciplinary procedure is about “actively supporting survivors”, emphasising that, “the University is not a court of law.”

At an open meeting earlier this month, the University’s Vice-chancellor Stephen Toope stated that he “personally” supports reforms to the disciplinary procedure, though he cautioned that he is “only a voice in the consultation process”.


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With the outcomes of today’s Senate House discussion not yet known, Lola Olufemi affirmed the continued commitment of the women’s campaign to combating gender inequality and sexual violence: “The Women’s Campaign has been at the forefront of tackling this issue for years. It is work done by the Women’s Campaign in collecting data that prompted the launch of Breaking the Silence.”

Between the launch of Breaking the Silence in October 2017 and March 2018, 170 anonymous reports of sexual misconduct have been filed, making this a pressure issue for the University to tackle well.