Student Safety over University Reputation – Sign the Petition!

CW: sexual assault and harassment





It is time the University of Melbourne to lose the complacency and understand the urgency of supporting and protecting survivors in the University community. As student representatives, the UMSU Women’s Department has written an open letter to Vice Chancellor Duncan Maskell highlighting the gap between the University’s rhetoric versus it action, with a list of actions we have asked them to commit to.

Read the open letter here (PDF version): Student Safety over University Reputation Open Letter
See our Facebook post here [Link to be updated]
A transcript of the letter is also available if you scroll to the bottom of this page.

This year, we have read about a professor at the University whose abusive behaviour was known for a decade without being stopped, and a student whose behaviour went without consequence despite the testimony of multiple complainants. Most recently we have heard about the University of Melbourne failing to disclose to the University of Adelaide that Peter Rathjen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, had sexually harassed a student while employed by the University of Melbourne.

It is clear that the University of Melbourne needs to face up to rape culture at the university and make institutional change. Despite this, the University Melbourne has failed to implement basic recommendations that would reduce sexual assault and harassment. They have failed to create a dedicated sexual assault and harassment policy, they have failed to improve their consent education at the University, and they have failed to offer justice to survivors.

Therefore, we as students, are calling on the University to do better and place itʻs student safety and wellbeing over its reputation.

We need YOUR voices to show the University that student safety can no longer be pushed to the side. Sign our petition “Student Safety over University Reputation” to show the University how much we need their commitment to a survivor-centric, trauma-informed, and therapeutic model for responding to and preventing sexual assault and harassment in the University Community.

Sign the Petition

Support Resources

Centre Against Sexual Assault House http://www.casahouse.com.au/Phone 24 Hour hotline: 03 9635 3610 1800

Respect: https://www.1800respect.org.au/ Phone: 1800 737 732, Interpreter: 13 14 50

UMSU Sexual Harm and Response Coordinator; Dr. Patrick Tidmarsh: patrick.tidmarsh@union.unimelb.edu.au

Unimelb Safer Communities: https://safercommunity.unimelb.edu.au/ Phone: 9035 8675

Additionally, UMSU has made up the following webpage which has some similar resources but is catered for students facing relationship violence during the lockdown: https://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/support/covid-resources/positive-relationships-and-safety-at-home/


Transcript of Letter to the Vice Chancellor

Dear Duncan,

This open letter has been written by representatives of UMSU, on behalf of the wider student body at the University of Melbourne. We are writing to express our disappointment at the spate of recent cases of sexual assault and harassment within the University, highlighting both the breadth of abuses and the lack of action on the University’s behalf.
Dear Duncan,

While the University has expressed a “zero tolerance” policy for abuse, students see the gap between this rhetoric and the actions of the University when addressing allegations, complaints, investigations, as well as consequences for perpetrators. The more times you repeat the “zero tolerance” assertion, when students are aware of continued abuses in which the University maintains a passive role in supporting survivors, the more their confidence will be eroded. This year, students have read about a professor whose abusive behaviour was known for a decade without being stopped, and a student whose behaviour went without consequence despite the testimony of multiple complainants. Most recently students have seen the University of Melbourne fail to disclose to the University of Adelaide that Peter Rathjen, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide, had sexually harassed a student while employed by the University of Melbourne. If you were a student, would this look like “zero tolerance” to you?

In a letter to staff, about the Peter Rathjen case, you stated that the University had “strong practices and policies to deal with these matters”. We see little evidence of these “strong practices and policies”, as is evident in the unsatisfactory outcomes in all the cases.  It is now three years since the landmark reports into sexual assault and harassment within Australian universities, conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission and others. In that time, there has been little progress at UoM, and it has fallen behind many comparable institutions. For example, the University of Melbourne is one of few Go8 Universities that does not yet have a stand-alone Sexual Assault and Harassment policy, one of the key recommendations of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “Change the Course” Report. More than three years on, the University of Melbourne, one of Australia’s “premier” academic institutions, has still failed to implement this key recommendation, and has made minimal progress on a range of other issues and actions. This sends a clear message to students that the university does not prioritise these issues, nor does it appear to prioritise student safety over its own reputation.

Those institutions that have addressed these issues more profoundly, have developed initiatives such as university ‘community-wide’ approaches, placed sufficient staff in appropriate and victim-centric settings, trained investigative teams dedicated to allegations against both staff and students, crafted specific stand-alone policies for relationship abuses, and developed multiple avenues of resolution, justice, and consequence. Why haven’t we done any of those things?

Students are losing faith in the University’s resolve to build the culture you describe, and its ability to address issues of sexual harm with vigour and transparency, in a survivor-centric way. For the University of Melbourne to be safe for students and staff, we ask that the University commit to a published plan of action that:

  • Includes a transparent, stand-alone sexual misconduct policy, that is survivor-centric and trauma-informed, developed in consultation with students.
  • Incorporates a therapeutic, survivor-centric and trauma informed model for responding to reports of sexual assault or harassment, including the development of a health and wellbeing centre, separate from university administrative services.
  • Develops a universal, independent, investigation and adjudication process for allegations against both staff and students
  • Develops alternative pathways for justice, including restorative processes.
  • Develops appropriate, student-led, consent and respectful relationship modules
  • Outlines a clear strategy, university-wide, for the prevention of all relationship abuses.

Recently, UMSU compiled a report that gathered testimony from students about their experience of current processes, policies, and practices at UoM. It showed that many students have little faith in the current response to sexual assault and harassment, as we have discussed in this open letter. We hope that upon its official presentation to the RESPECT Taskforce it is taken seriously, and that the voices of students, through student representatives, are actively engaged with through positive and proactive action.

We look forward to hearing back from you.

Naomi Smith & Aria Sunga
UMSU Women’s Department