After an AHRC report revealed a third of Macquarie University students have been sexually harassed in a university setting and 77 out of 950 respondents had been sexually assaulted somewhere in 2015 and 2016, the university hosted a speaker event lead by the Respect.Now.Always. team on Tuesday.
Vice Chancellor Bruce S Dowton addressed the crowd, assuring those gathered that there would be continued and meaningful changes made to university policy and culture in response to widespread sexual assault and harassment.
Student Noelle Martin says that while she was happy with the Vice Chancellor’s presence at the event, this conversation has been a long time coming.
‘It is a dire shame and failure on the part of all universities for their silence and grossly inadequate responses to sexual violence on campus. Universities need to be proactive about sexual violence. Universities need to put the safety and wellbeing of students first. Unfortunately, Macquarie University has let their students down on both fronts,’ she told Grapeshot.
Noelle asked a question to the VC of a structural nature: how can students be expected to depend on Campus Wellbeing when the wait time for an appointment can be in excess of four weeks?
Noelle has experienced sexual harassment on campus and five years of online abuse during her time at Macquarie. It wasn’t until last year that she discovered Campus Wellbeing and was afforded several ‘fantastic and extremely helpful’ sessions with a counsellor.
‘But the trauma and pain one can experience from sexual violence can have long lasting effects,’ she says. ‘And the last few times I have contacted Campus Wellbeing, the next available appointment would be a month away. Not only is this such a long time to wait from a wellbeing point of view, but also from an academic point of view.’
Students who have experienced sexual harassment or violence rely on authority forms provided by Campus Wellbeing counsellors that serve as supporting documents for Disruption to Studies applications. Month-long wait times negatively impact students’ wellbeing and can have an adverse effect on their studies as well, Noelle says.
‘I felt I needed to put these concerns to the VC, and ask what he would do to improve or increase the resources at Campus Wellbeing.’
In response to her question, Professor Dowton – who preceded his answer by saying his office will ‘crucify’ him for this – stated his email to the crowd, and said that any concerned student unable to secure a prompt appointment with Campus Wellbeing should get in touch with him directly.
Noelle says she was very satisfied with the VC’s response.
‘Essentially, he agreed that waiting a month for an appointment for a victim of sexual violence is unacceptable. So, he said if this is the case, to email him directly and he will ensure the wait time is not that long. I was happy to hear the VC made a personal pledge in this regard, but I hope that further changes are made to Campus Wellbeing. The university should hire more counsellors or increase funding to Campus Wellbeing, because for some, students Campus Wellbeing is their life line at university.’