Homerton Senior Tutor admitted that "our processes, and the way they have been applied, have not always inspired the confidence of those who have needed to use them."Franman247

Content note: detailed discussion of mental health issues, suicide, sexual abuse, PTSD and assault

All names of students have been changed to preserve anonymity

On October 12th, Homerton for Consent published an open letter publicly criticising the “mistrust and mishandling of sexual misconduct and disciplinary complaints” at Homerton College.

The open letter, which now has over 100 signatures, stated that “many survivors are currently being ignored by senior staff members when contacting them about sexual misconduct issues including urgent/immediate safety concerns”. The letter also put pressure on the College to make reporting procedures more transparent and widely known.

This is not the first time, however, that students at Homerton have attempted to draw attention to the mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints and the welfare of female students.

In March, Homerton for Consent hosted a joint art event with the students of Trinity College which aimed to raise awareness of the failings of sexual harassment policy across the University and in the College. Posters calling to ‘Make College Safe for Women’ were anonymously posted around Homerton, all of which were swiftly removed.

As the pressure on the College to reform its welfare policies mounts, Varsity has been speaking to students at Homerton, offering them the chance to share their stories of mishandling and neglect.

Mary reported that in 2019, while attending a College dinner, her supervisor and another male student were engaged in a “graphically sexual conversation” about her and other female students.

Fortunately for Mary, another student had overheard and taken down the contents of the conversation so she was informed and able to make a complaint.

Mary arranged to have a meeting with the Senior Tutor where she asked about pursuing a formal complaint against the supervisor who had been making the sexually inappropriate comments, but “she promised me he’d been disciplined and dealt with and really discouraged me from making the complaint against him.”

In light of these responses, Mary decided against making the complaint. Varsity can confirm, however, that this supervisor subsequently received a considerable promotion within the College and faculty. Furthermore, as Mary told Varsity: “he’s now my lecturer for 2 papers this year, one of which is compulsory.”

When Mary brought her complaint against the student who had been making the inappropriate comments with the member of staff to the Senior Tutor, she also found the response to be unsatisfactory and the Senior Tutor’s language to be highly inappropriate.

“She very much from the outset was massively infantilising this guy; saying things like ‘he’s from a very rural upbringing and is very inexperienced’. The one thing she said that I found really really shocking, at the time and to this day is, when I was saying this guy called me a slut, she said: ‘well when I was young the word slut meant a woman who kept an unclean house.’”

“I definitely think the college procedure is ad hoc, and unclear. I never really could find out what the college procedure was. In terms of staff, I don’t want to lay it all at Penny Barton’s [the Senior Tutor] door... I think most students wouldn’t know the procedure.”

This sentiment contradicts what an anonymous former welfare officer told Varsity. They detailed that “college procedure is slow, things have to be ‘by the books’.” There was a “a lengthy process that had to be carried out yet sometimes never resulted in a satisfying outcome or solution.”

"She just made me feel so worthless.”

The combination of a slow bureaucratic system and a lack of transparency often results in a dangerous failure to protect the welfare of students at Homerton. “I went to Penny at the start of last term after the end of my abusive relationship to report my ex for multiple accounts of physical violence against others and intimidation to myself” Lauren told Varsity.

“She told me to write out a complaint form against him and I did, dating all the different episodes of violent behaviour. When I sent it to her she told me that I needed to address the complaint form to him personally to read and then told me to redact the sexual assault claim I had made against him. She urged me to redact names of other people mentioned as well who were also college students.”

“During the meeting I told her how I didn’t feel safe within my own College as he had previously come to my room and pounded on the door waking everyone who lived on my corridor, he knew where I lived and lived nearby. The best she offered me was for us to have scheduled hall and library times meaning I too had to make sacrifices in my daily routine due to what he had done.”

“She told me that she had a contractual duty to make sure that he didn’t fail his degree and could graduate, completely ignoring the fact that the situation made it difficult for me to attend lectures and walk around college without consistent panic attacks. She offered that I could change college or apply to intermit - it was entirely up to me to make sacrifices as a victim.”

Not only this, but the College completely failed to ensure that Lauren would not have to interact with her abuser. At half-way hall he was allowed to attend and no changes were made to the seating plan. He was also “able to attend pre drinks in a college room where no distancing was enforced between us” tells Lauren. “I ran out of the room crying, literally passing Penny Barton as I went, who did not stop me or email me or make any acknowledgement of this.”

"She offered that I could change college or apply to intermit - it was entirely up to me to make sacrifices as a victim.”

After receiving no help at the level of the college, Lauren brought her complaint to the University where she was told “that as we were both at the same College (me and my abuser) it was up to the College to punish him/ sort it out.” Ultimately “still nothing has been done for me in terms of this situation.”

Yet the systemic welfare failings at Homerton are not only limited to reporting of sexual misconduct. Students have also described how their physical and mental health has been mishandled by the College.

Emma was in her second year at Homerton when she had approached the College to apply for funding for cooking equipment as she had to prepare her own food due to a pre-existing medical condition.

Emma explained her situation and passed on her medical notes to the tutorial office specifying: “please don’t pass these on.” After hearing nothing from the College for a time she was finally told that her notes “had been to the bursar, and that the bursar had declined the request”.

Not only were there sensitive medical notes passed on against her direct wishes but Emma was not informed that her notes had been passed on and was not given the opportunity to consent to this.

In a follow up meeting with the Senior Tutor, Dr Penny Barton, Emma found the Senior Tutor to be dismissive of her condition. “She [the Senior Tutor] really patronised me” Emma told Varsity. “I was crying in her office and she just went back to typing on her laptop.”

The Senior Tutor then told Emma that “you have to cook to eat; that’s life”, and her case was dismissed. The issue, says Emma, is that all applications for disability funding ultimately have to go through the Senior Tutor rather than through a trained professional.

Unfortunately, this was not the end of Emma’s negative interaction with the College welfare system. At the end of Lent term last academic year, Emma had called the Porters to deal with a noise complaint against her neighbour who then confronted her in the corridor.

“He flew at me, he was poking my chest” says Emma “he was touching me and I said don’t touch me please.” No longer wanting to interact with the Senior Tutor, Emma took her complaint to the Dean and told them that “I’ve been verbally and physically assaulted, I feel scared. My guy friends were marching me around college. They walked with me because I was too scared to go to my room.”

Yet the only response from Dean was to move the male student to a different accommodation and to encouraged Emma, in an email seen by Varsity, “not to engage in any further contact.”

Yet the issue which Emma says most infuriated her was that the Dean began their email by saying “thank you for meeting with me to discuss the noise complaint”, completely disregarding her allegations.

“Still nothing has been done for me in terms of this situation.”

The failings at Homerton also extend to mental health provisions. Services that were previously handled by the Disability Resource Centre, including applications for alternative means of assessment, are now handled internally and led by the Senior Tutor.

On the 15th January 2019, Sarah emailed her tutor to discuss applying for alternative means of assessment (AMA). Due to traumatic events during her A levels and in her first year at University Sarah experienced trauma induced anxiety triggered by examinations which can cause suicidal thoughts and behaviour. Both her Tutor and Director of Studies agreed that this was sufficient grounds for applying for AMA and her request was forwarded onto the Senior Tutor.

However, Sarah soon encountered the now familiar pattern of dismissal and lack of understanding that accompanies these meetings. “I came out of that meeting crying and ended up going home” says Sarah of her first meeting with the Senior Tutor in Lent term.

“I told her my deepest trauma and all my suicidal thoughts and feelings and her response was ‘everyone has anxiety during the exam season, even the students at Hills Road Sixth Form College get anxious’. I remember that word for word because it was so harrowing. If I had come to her the year before, when I was extremely suicidal, and she had given me that response, I really don’t know where I would be.”

Sarah also told Varsity that she encountered issues that stemmed from a deep lack of understanding of mental health. The Senior Tutor repeatedly insisted that the letter from Sarah’s psychotherapist was not sufficient evidence despite this being from a consultant or specialist as required by the University. The Senior Tutor instead insisted that Sarah see a psychiatrist despite her insistence that she had no desire too.

It was only when Sarah arranged a meeting with her DoS, tutor, Senior Tutor, and DRC advisor that her evidence was accepted, and even then the Senior Tutor wrote in a follow up email seen by Varsity, that “the AMA has to be applied for every year, it is hoped with ongoing therapy, some of [student’s] fears may lesson as she goes through the degree”.

The Senior Tutor also insisted that Sarah visit her psychotherapist during term time as a condition for the signing of the AMA application, despite Sarah telling her that she did not schedule these during term due to the intense psychological toll they took.

It was returning from one of these sessions when Sarah experienced “the worst panic attack of my life.” Sarah told Varsity that “the only reason for it was her [Dr Barton]. The way she talked to me, the way she made me feel inadequate, the way she completely dismissed me, my anxiety, my diagnoses, my evidence. She just made me feel so worthless.”

“I came out of that meeting crying and ended up going home”

When informed that Sarah had been taken to hospital by ambulance after the attack the Senior Tutor said via email that ‘it’s a relief to hear that it was something transient’ and that she hoped ‘you are feeling better and able to get on with your studies’.

“It is not something transient, it is a harrowing experience that conjured up more suicidal feelings, depression and anxiety. It doesn’t just stop there.” Sarah told Varsity “it was never about how I felt, it was always about not getting behind.”

After first beginning her application on the 15th of January, it was only on February 21st that the Senior Tutor signed off on Sarah’s AMA application. AMA applications are not decided by the Senior Tutor but by a separate University panel. The Senior Tutor’s only role is to sign off on the application. This process took over a month to complete.

“The fact that it took me over a month for her to just agree to submit an application to the University is ridiculous. It just shows how messed up the system is that it has to be a senior tutor that submits the application. She [the Senior Tutor] has been handling my medical evidence without any sort of guarantees, there have been no lengths to safeguard my wellbeing and my evidence. I have no idea if Penny still has my medical evidence running around on her computer. That’s a flaw in the process with the university.”

When contacted by Varsity Dr Barton said the following: “Incidents of sexual misconduct are always distressing and can be life-changing, and reporting an incident can itself be deeply painful and difficult.”

She continued: “Our students are telling us that the process of reporting and resolution that they have experienced at Homerton in recent years has not always been satisfactory, and as Senior Tutor I apologise that our processes, and the way they have been applied, have not always inspired the confidence of those who have needed to use them. I am committed to leading extensive action to address these concerns – including action to update my own understanding and language, and to provide victims with the best possible support.”


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“Homerton students quite rightly expect the College to provide the highest possible standards of care in this regard, and the whole pastoral team and I are committed to reviewing our processes and practices to respond to student concerns, and to reflect best practice. If the systems in place to protect students who come forward aren’t working properly, then this compounds the trauma for victims. I will work closely with the student body to promote a culture of zero tolerance”, she finished telling Varsity.

A spokesperson for Homerton College further commented that “Senior staff at Homerton have become aware over the past few months of student concern in relation to the reporting of sexual misconduct, and have initiated a process of reviewing the College’s procedures and provision of support, and redoubling its efforts to promote a culture of zero tolerance towards sexual misconduct.”

They went on to point out that “the Senior Tutor and Vice-Principal hosted an Open Meeting for Homerton students last week to promote awareness of Homerton’s procedures for reporting sexual misconduct, to update students on recent changes the College has made, and to invite the student body to raise questions or share their perspectives on how Homerton’s provision can be as supportive and effective as possible”.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, the following services provide support and resources: