Words || Amber Loomis
Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and sexual harassment
It’s been approximately 3 months since the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report, Change the Course. While student stories, activist and advocacy work have addressed this issue for a number of years, the AHRC report shed light on this topic in a way wider Australian society hadn’t yet seen. The report, which details the prevalence of sexual violence within university communities has been an integral part of the Macquarie Respect. Now. Always. project.
Although mainstream media attention around the issue has quieted down since August, the work at Macquarie hasn’t stopped. Since the release of the results, the Student Diversity and Inclusion team (formerly, Student Equity and Diversity) has held Respect. Now. Always. meetings, Respectful Relationships workshops, project information sessions, and most recently, a series of student consultations.
Recommendations following the report’s release have emphasised the importance of student engagement in shaping institutional responses. UNSW AHRCentre’s On Safe Ground report warns that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ university response is unlikely to be effective and may also miss the mark in addressing needs of distinct groups on campuses. The report also identifies that student input can enhance both accessibility and usage of university sexual harassment and sexual assault resources. Other existing literature makes similar recommendations, suggesting that increased engagement with students can help break down barriers for reporting incidences of sexual assault and sexual harassment to universities.
Student Diversity and Inclusion have taken these recommendations to heart and, throughout October, facilitated a series of student consultations to help inform the developing Macquarie University Action Plan. These consultations focused on bringing the voices of student demographics who, according to research are disproportionately affected by sexual assault and harassment, to the forefront. The team has met with women-identifying students, LGBTQIA+ students, students living with disability and carers, culturally and linguistically diverse and international students as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. Sessions included discussion about how the university can continue to improve its prevention and response methods.
Student Diversity and Inclusion recognises that participating in consultations can sometimes be a challenge. Whether it’s because of timetable clashes, preference to express yourself in writing, or because of comfort level with the discussion topic, face-to-face consultations don’t suit everyone. In order to make the participation process more accessible, the team has created a web submission option, where students can access the consultation questions through qualtrics.
The online consultation questions can be accessed here. Submissions close at 5pm on 9 November. All information obtained in the face-to face-consultations have been de-identified and web submissions will remain anonymous.
To all students who have participated in these consultations and to all who have contributed to Respect. Now. Always. in any way, we thank you. Your input, dedication, and energy have not gone unnoticed. Together, we will continue to strive for cultural change that helps create a safe and respectful campus.
If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, you can contact Campus Wellbeing or the Universities Australia 27/7 hotline 1800 572 224.