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Warwick prepares for ‘Wellbeing Week’ in midst of group chat scandal

The University of Warwick’s ‘Wellbeing Week’ is set to begin tomorrow as students and staff on campus come to terms with the fallout of the group chat scandal that made national headlines last week. The “whole week” will be “underpinned by a theme of dignity and respect”, according to the University’s website.

The week, organised by the University, is intended to “promote the support which is available and communicate key issues on wellbeing, including healthy lifestyles, physical health and activity, mental health, and financial wellbeing.”

As part of the weeks plans, the University has planned ‘Respect Day’ for Tuesday 5 February. According to the University, the day is aimed at specifically focusing on the Dignity at Warwick policy and ‘Respect at Warwick’.

In his statement regarding the group chat scandal released on Friday, the vice-chancellor Stuart Croft wrote under a section asking what the University will do differently: “We will seek to more proactively promote and live our values, ensuring each and every member of the Warwick community lives, studies and works in an environment of dignity and respect.”

The vice-chancellor also noted in his statement that the coming week is also ‘Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week’.

Regarding the University’s decision to reduce the punishments of two group chat members on appeal, a spokesperson for Ending Violence against Women and Girls stated on Friday: “Decisions such as this signal very clearly to both victims and perpetrators that Warwick University does not take sexual violence seriously. These men used abhorrent language to discuss women that they knew and befriended. They discussed rape as a means of teaching women ‘a lesson’ and used homophobic, racist and ableist language.

“By reducing the length of the expulsions, Warwick University has created a situation in which victims feel ‘terrified’ to return to their studies. This is a complete failure in its duty of care to its students.”

In reference to ‘Wellbeing Week’ and ‘Respect Day’, the vice-chancellor had also stated: “Through initiatives like this, we will actively promote tolerance and respect for all members of our community.”

The Boar published a letter from one of the female students who originally complained to the University about the group chat in response to the vice-chancellor’s statement yesterday. The Boar contacted the University for comment before the letter’s publication but did not receive a response.

Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (CRASAC), who have worked in partnership with the University, told The Boar in response to the reduced sentences: “All universities have a duty of care to all of their students. We can’t comment on individual cases where we don’t have specific details, but changing a ten-year ban, for such heinous conduct, to a one-year ban at appeal appears to be a very disproportionate reduction.

“Our concern is centred on the victims of this behaviour. What this reduction means to the female students who were subject to these awful threats of rape and sexual violence. By deciding on such a reduction, in practice means these women are very likely to come into contact with these men, who made these shocking threats against them.  The University have a duty of care to these women also.

“CRASAC has worked well in partnership with the University to deliver ISVA (independent sexual violence advisor) support on campus over the last year and this has been very successful; obviously universities cannot be expected to be experts around sexual violence, but good practice dictates they should work with specialist sexual violence services on how to best manage these processes and to ensure that victims are not further traumatised.”  

The Students’ Union (SU) is holding a meeting on ‘Our Demands to the University’ tomorrow evening, after stating that it “can no longer work with the University on issues of sexism, racism or any other liberation issues in good faith.”

A demonstration organised by a number of societies, including Warwick for Free Education (WFFE), entitled ‘Reclaim Our University’ has also been planned for Wednesday 6 February.

Departments from around the University have also issued statements expressing concerns at the decision. Professor Emma Mason, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor on behalf of the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies expressed “shared dismay at the news regarding those students who were banned from Warwick for ten years.”

An online petition to ban the students involved in the group chat from returning to the University has also reached over 60,000 signatures, more than double the student population of Warwick.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised over the last week, as well as contacting Wellbeing Support or the Warwick SU Advice Centre, you can contact Coventry Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (CRASAC) on 02476 277777 – the helpline is open Monday-Friday, 10am-2pm, and Monday and Thursday evenings from 6-8pm. If phoning outside these hours, you can leave a voicemail message for someone from the helpline to phone you back.

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