"An intense feeling of being unsafe in my own college – my home – had set in."Illustration by Kate Towsey for Varsity

Content Note: This article contains detailed discussion of sexual violence and sexual harassment; detailed discussion of recovery from sexual violence, including disassociation.

I am a survivor of repeated sexual violence over a 10-year period. I am also a student at Trinity Hall. On the evening of Saturday 19th October, scrolling through BBC News, I came across Rianna Croxford’s article revealing my college’s decision to readmit Peter Hutchinson as an Emeritus Fellow.

This was the first I – and most students at Trinity Hall – had heard of this decision. We received no communication from college on the matter until the Thursday, five full days after national news had exposed the scandal. In this time, the story was picked up and covered by several other national news services, in addition to the student newspapers in Cambridge, and an open letter condemning the decision was produced, garnering over 1300 signatures. And – still – we had no communication from college, not even an acknowledgement of the situation.

Meanwhile, things were going rapidly downhill for me. What I was reading and hearing about Hutchinson – the sexual assault trial in 2006 and his sexual harassment of 10 students in 2015 – was badly affecting my mental state. An intense feeling of being unsafe in my own college – my home – had set in. I couldn’t bring myself to leave my room for the first few days, for fear that Hutchinson might be outside, wandering around college at his leisure. (Supposedly, he was not allowed to attend ′events primarily aimed at students or alumni’, but no one knew exactly what was meant by this, and it felt like college deliberately avoided being clear about it.)

Even within my room, I wasn’t safe. My brain was in overdrive: hypervigilant, anxious, dissociated. Flooding back came the memories and flashbacks of my own abuse. I’d lost all sense of when and where I was. I was back there – it was happening again. I was in crisis. In the space of a few hours, I’d gone from being flashback-free and thriving to being completely submerged in excruciating and humiliating memory. The important healing work I’d been doing was, in a single moment, undone.

So when – on the Thursday – the Master finally released his statement on the situation, his dismissal of the effect the news was having on students as minor ‘upset’ seemed laughably blinkered to the intensity of feeling that was growing within college. And again, from reports of the open meeting held with the JCR on Friday, the Master seemed unable to recognise that – yes, in fact – just seeing Hutchinson on college grounds could be enough to seriously affect student wellbeing. What has become very clear in these past few weeks is that college is increasingly disillusioning students, yet they somehow seem to be completely unaware of the effect their attitude is having.

The echoes of secrecy and forced powerlessness resound uncomfortably in Trinity Hall’s behaviour

The lack of communication from college on the situation is truly astonishing, especially given the damage that negative publicity did to their reputation just over a year ago with the scandal over its male drinking society, the Trinity Hall Crescents. Being proactive in the current situation was really the only hope Trinity Hall had at somewhat safeguarding their reputation. Communication and transparency should have been big priorities for Trinity Hall. Instead, it seems, despite an apparent 18 months of extensive internal discussion on Hutchinson’s position (none of which, I might add, was ever communicated to students until the recent JCR open meeting), Trinity Hall has been ‘caught out’ once again, scorned by national news before they’d managed to announce the decision themselves.

Apparently, Trinity Hall thought it appropriate to slip the news of Hutchinson’s re-appointment into the November edition of the alumni magazine (as they stated at the open meeting), five months after his profile reappeared on the college website, in the hope, we can guess, that the announcement would go unnoticed. How many times must the Master ‘hold his hands up’ – as he repeatedly did at Friday’s open meeting – for failure to communicate properly before we get transparency?

Since the news broke, we have had the initial (misjudged) statement from the Master, albeit five days too late, and an open meeting at which the Master, according to reports, seemed as defensive and dismissive as in his statement. The Senior Tutor, to her credit, released a letter of her own immediately following the Master’s statement, in which she sincerely apologised in a personal capacity for the “distress and anxiety” caused to students, recognising the dwindling trust we have in our college to protect our safety and welfare. We are, however, still yet to receive any form of official apology from college for their handling of the situation. Given the Master’s dismissive approach, it seems unlikely that we will ever get this apology.


Mountain View

Trinity Hall’s actions remind me why I never reported my assault by a Cambridge academic

On Wednesday, we were informed that the governing body had accepted Hutchinson’s resignation. This – according to the Master – is the end of the matter. But, while the urgent situation might have been resolved (by Hutchinson himself, it must be noted, not by any action on college’s part), Trinity Hall’s underlying issues with transparency and communication remain. We, the student body, are left no more informed now than we were after reading Rianna Croxford’s original BBC article.

In their refusal to speak out, Trinity Hall is re-enacting a power dynamic I know all too well from my own abuse: they – the governing body and senior fellows – hold all the information; we – the students – have none. The echoes of secrecy and forced powerlessness resound uncomfortably in Trinity Hall’s behaviour.

But there is one key difference: this time, I have a voice. We have a voice. I may have been powerless in my own abuse, but I will not let our power be taken from us this time. If denying us information is college’s attempt to cripple us and prevent us fighting their decisions, they must know this: we will not stop until we get transparency.

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