Message from the Vice-Chancellor on Friday 14 August 2020
Dear colleagues and students,
Thank you for attending the Respectful Relationship Summit on Friday 31 July. It was encouraging to see more than 120 members from across our community attend the Summit for a constructive discussion - we may be coming together from different perspectives and positions but we are all united by our commitment to create lasting cultural change and a campus free from sexual violence. I also want to acknowledge and thank Patty Kinnersly for moderating the event and providing her expertise to the discussions as well as Our Watch's continued engagement with the university sector.
I am encouraged by the ideas, suggestions and feedback raised during the Summit. I recognise that students often experience a burden around driving cultural change, and your voices are important in ensuring what we do will support you and everyone in our community. It was encouraging to see the numbers of our staff both professional and academic involved in the conversations.
As part of the breakout room conversations, Grady, Ian and I identified four emerging themes which will be central to our work in the coming 12 months and beyond. These themes broadly include: communication, culture, process and student wellbeing which I will address below. I also note that the last two years have seen steady progress, with much time spent on creating new structures, including the Respectful Relationship Unit, which will now allow for an accelerated progress of the ANU Sexual Violence Prevention Strategy moving forward. I understand that this has taken time - and this has been frustrating, for me as well as many of you - but it is important to get this right and I am confident we are on track.
As promised at the forum, we have taken some time to consider the feedback and ideas presented and are providing a response to those themes.
The first theme highlighted the need for greater and different types of communication across campus. It's clear that we need to improve our communications around the support and response available to someone who has experienced sexual misconduct. But importantly, the feedback also told us that our communications aren't tailored for students residing off campus or to students from different cultural backgrounds - and we need to change our communications approach. We need to embed an understanding of the work of the Respectful Relationships Unit across our community and enable the Unit to be the first port of call for people needing assistance as a survivor of sexual misconduct or as someone responding to a survivor. We must also ensure that the education (both training and support services) are accessible to everyone in our community.
Over the last year, the Unit has delivered face-to-face training to more than 3,500 people and will continue to offer a variety of training and education programs https://www.anu.edu.au/students/health-safety-wellbeing/violence-sexual-assault-support/education-training-and-resources.
We commit to developing a comprehensive communications strategy that targets the most vulnerable in our community, working closely with relevant experts and advocates to ensure the messages reach people of all cultural backgrounds and living circumstances. We will begin developing the strategy now, and aim to have begun implementation by Semester 1, 2021. Like all things in this space, it is important to take the time to get it right and I want the strategy to be informed by experts and based on evidence.
The second emerging theme was around the culture of some areas or individuals at ANU falling short of what we expect of our community. And that isn't good enough. A safe and positive culture must be embedded in all aspects of university life, from residential halls to campus activities, to the classroom experience. The ANU culture needs to be set and addressed early in people's engagement with campus, with staff inductions, move-in processes in a residence and through academic inductions.
The communications strategy will also include success measures that focus on cultural change. We acknowledge communications is just one element of this theme, but it is an important element of making known our community's expectations and commitment to stopping sexual violence on our campus. I see it as an important step as well in sharing the responsibility for cultural change to support cultural champions at all levels across our community.
The third theme centred on the difficulty in engaging with or holding a perpetrator to account through the discipline rules and HR processes. Feedback from survivors and advocates showed that there is confusion about the processes and policies in place, and we need to review and refine some areas to ensure people can clearly navigate through a disclosure or a reporting process as well as accessing appropriate support.
We are progressing in this space with the establishment of the Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Taskforce as a joint initiative of the DVC (SUE) and DVC (A), alongside representatives of our student associations. The Taskforce will examine and reform the supports provided for a survivor through these processes, ensuring choice and control for a survivor, which will provide recommendations to implement by Semester 1 2021.
Getting this right is one of the hardest tasks for our whole community. Our first attempt is never going to be perfect, nor is our second or probably our third. So, we must continually review and improve our processes. We have heard the feedback provided to us at the Summit and seek further feedback from anyone who has gone through the process. We are committed to continually improving our processes and to understand what is working, what needs to be done better and where are the limitations in our processes. We will do better by being transparent about our processes, the limitations of the system and the other evidence we use to inform our processes.
The final theme that emerged was that many students feel overburdened in supporting others who have been impacted by sexual assault and/or sexual harassment particularly in student leadership roles. Following student feedback in 2019, we have reformed some of the staffing structures in residential environments and are continuing that work through the pastoral care review. The work on the review has been underway during 2020 and has involved student consultation through ANUSA, PARSA and the IHC as well as other members of the residential leadership teams. The initial recommendations will be implemented by Semester 2, 2021.
It is incredibly admirable that our students are so willing to support one another, and I encourage anyone who needs support to seek that support through our free services.
We cannot address sexual violence in isolation, and I thank our staff and students for attending and partaking in these discussions. The Summit was the tip of iceberg and your ideas will continue to emerge during the semester and next year. I really do want your input so we can continue to co-design ways to embed this strategy. If you have ideas, please send them to email@example.com.
We will arrange another event like the Summit later this year to provide more opportunity for students to speak directly with me or other members of the Executive about these issues and to help us continue to improve. This is a shared journey and I want to keep us talking openly, productively and respectfully.
I look forward to continuing to work together, and thank you again for your ideas, suggestions and feedback.
*Message sent to registered Respectful Relationships Summit attendees*