In an email to all students, the College outlined that they "cannot give an absolute undertaking" that students will not be investigated for breaking Covid-19 guidelines even when reporting an incident of assaultross church

Content warning: discussion of harassment

Jesus College has informed students that they may face disciplinary action if they report a case of assault or harassment which took place during a violation of the College’s Covid-19 behavioural guidelines.

In a statement outlining the College’s current approach to harassment and abuse allegations, the College assured students that they will treat such allegations with “utmost seriousness” and will not “refuse to begin, nor abandon, any investigation [...] because the context in which it occurred was an unauthorised gathering”.

They also noted that “the Dean of College will be particularly aware of the need to protect and respect those making complaints of harassment of abuse”, highlighting “the need for proportionality” and “the College’s general policy to shy away from draconian sanctions (including eviction) save in the most extreme cases”.

However, the statement furthered that the College “cannot give an absolute undertaking” that students will not be investigated for Covid-19 regulation violations when reporting an incident of harassment or abuse if it took place at a “non-Covid-19-regulation-compliant event”.

In justification of this, the College stated that some violations “could not conceivably be ignored”, emphasising that the regulations “are necessary to ensure the protection of the health and safety of all members of our community”.

An open letter launched by students of Jesus College today (12/11), accused the College of creating “an environment where students experiencing serious racial, sexual, or homophobic abuse are afraid to seek College support” and “reinforcing the structures that prevent survivors from speaking up”.

The open letter also described the College’s communication with the Jesus College Student Union (JCSU) and Jesus College students as “inadequate”, alleging that they have refused “to engage in dialogue with students about their concerns or even communicate new information in a timely or honest manner”.

A second open letter, which currently has over 1000 signatures from alumni and students across the University, urged the College “to retract its statements regarding the potential for punishment of those students who have been sexually assaulted or harassed whilst in breach of college Covid rules”, highlighting “chronic underreporting” of sexual misconduct and a “victim blaming mentality” which will be “perpetuated” by its approach.

This follows a statement released by the Cambridge Consent Collective Organising Group led by the Students’ Union Women’s Campaign and the Loud and Clear campaign earlier this year. The statement urged colleges to “guarantee that disciplinary action is not taken against any student who may wish to make a complaint” if the incident they are reporting took place whilst College Covid-19 restrictions were being violated.

The statement released by the Consent Collective Organising Group also urged colleges to “continue to actively promote support services” which students will not face disciplinary action for accessing, and condemned “the policing of student behaviour”.

Jesus released earlier guidance in September, stating that “in extreme or repeat cases” of a breach of Covid-19 regulations, “students may have their right to live in College accommodation revoked and, if necessary, we will further report breaches of the law”.

The Women’s Campaign has since released a statement expressing “complete solidarity” with students at Jesus College, alleging that the communication “expresses a wilful disregard for the wellbeing of those who may or have been impacted by sexual harassment during their time at Cambridge”, pointing to a “punitive environment and culture of blame [...] that contribute to existing silences around harms of all kinds”.


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Jess Molyneux, the Women’s and Non-Binary Officer on the Jesus College Student Union (JCSU), told Varsity that although she has “faith that the College will take complaints seriously and would in many cases prioritise the complaint”, the College’s response nonetheless plays into the “broader issue of compliance in structures of silencing”. She urged the College to “waive the need for punishment” in cases where an incident of harassment or abuse occurred during a violation of College Covid-19 restrictions, and to be more active in trying to “break the silence” for victims of harassment and abuse.

In a statement to Varsity, a Jesus College spokesperson stated that they “consulted widely and concluded that we couldn’t issue a statement which ran counter to extensive Government guidelines”, affirming that “we prioritise the needs of students who have been the victims of harassment or abuse, and will always encourage students to come forward”.

They also clarified that “there are possible scenarios where if a major Covid-19 regulation had been broken - for example if a student tested positive and should be self-isolating, but instead attended an illegal party [...] the Dean of College would have to engage with that student”, noting that the Dean’s standard response to a regulation infringement has been “[to remind] the student of the rules and explain how their actions could affect other vulnerable students and themselves”.

The Cambridge SU will bring a motion on enforcement of college discipline in the Covid-19 context at its next Council Meeting (23/11), which proposes among other things for colleges to commit “to taking no disciplinary action against students who report instances of harassment and sexual misconduct that occur during breaches of Covid-related distancing guidelines”. 

In a statement to the Cambridge Tab, Chloe Newbold, undergraduate SU Women’s Officer, described Jesus College’s approach as “symptomatic of the way in which punitive COVID-19 disciplinary enforcement within the colleges is having a detrimental impact upon the most vulnerable students”. 

Loud and Clear member Marina McCready also condemned the “shocking lack of compassion” in the college’s statement, emphasising that “in normal circumstances, a very small number of victims of sexual harassment or assault will report what happened to them… Jesus College has basically guaranteed that this number will now become zero”.