Women 'terrified' as students allowed to return after rape messages

Men allowed back on campus early after University of Warwick reduces suspension

Women discussed as rape targets by a group of male students at the University of Warwick say they are terrified of seeing the men return to campus after the university reduced the length of their suspension.

Last year five men were barred or suspended by the university over their membership of a long-running group chat that discussed rape and sexual assault of women, including individual students, as well as racism, antisemitism and homophobia.

After a decision from the university’s disciplinary proceedings in June, two of the men were banned from the Warwick campus for 10 years. But it has emerged that, after an appeal, the two will be able to return to the campus from September.

Two of the other men were suspended for just one year, meaning that four of the five who were disciplined could return as students at the start of the next academic year. The fifth student was banned from the campus for life.

In an open letter to Warwick, one of the women involved said: “I feel terrified at the prospect of having these boys in my seminars and lectures, as they sit there feeling guilt-free. Knowing that I may have to come face to face with them again just to continue my education is unacceptable.”

Saying that she had suffered from depression, anxiety and eating disorders since the group chats were published, the woman said she felt humiliated. “You have failed to protect countless students like myself, and don’t even have an adequate system in place to look after students who are suffering and hurting,” she told the university.

The news of the return of the men also provoked a strong reaction among the university’s staff.

“Staff and students in my department are united in our shock and disgust at this decision,” Prof Emma Mason, head of Warwick’s English department, said in a letter to the vice-chancellor, Stuart Croft.

“We wish to express strong and renewed support for those students harmed by these posts, abhorrence at the contents of the posts, and a deep concern about the decision to reduce the terms of suspension.”

The university said in a statement that the behaviour of the men involved in the group chat was “abhorrent and unacceptable”.

Prof Christine Ennew, provost of the University of Warwick, said that the appeals panel focussed on the scale of the penalties, with the students accepting culpability.

“Privacy considerations mean that we are not able to disclose the specific details on which the decisions were made. However, the panel reached the view that there were clear reasons to require that the punishments imposed should be comparable across all of those individuals sanctioned,” Ennew said.

“The penalties imposed combine direct punishment for the deeply offensive and threatening comments made during the chats, future behavioural restrictions and a requirement to engage in processes to enable them to learn from their past unacceptable behaviour.”

The penalties were intended to allow the women affected to complete their studies before the men returned but one woman told The Boar, the Warwick student newspaper: “I wanted to do a master’s here but that’s not an option any more. Other girls who were named and talked about in the chat are still going to be here next year in the same department.”

The returning students will have further conditions imposed on them, the university said.

Liam Jackson, the president of Warwick students’ union, said there was “considerable unease” around the outcome of the appeals process and he said he wanted to see the university’s disciplinary procedures changed.

“We remain shocked by the content of the group chat, and our stance continues to be that sexism, racism and oppression of any kind have no place within our community,” Jackson said.


Richard Adams Education editor

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