Source: flickr

The Undeniable Presence of Sexual Assault at the University of St Andrews

Has St Andrews failed its students?

When Emily, a rising second year, visited St Andrews in 2017, she fell in love with the university as many prospective students do. Every part of the school seemed perfect. That is until she was at a party with a current student. Towards the end of the night, she and Emily were in a room with about 7 other girls chatting, giving Emily honest advice and information about St Andrews. The main moment she remembers is when they started talking about the prevalence of sexual assault and rape in St Andrews. The girl who started the conversation was a study abroad student and said that the rape culture at St Andrews was her largest shock, even coming from another University. She told Emily that she had been raped at St Andrews and it was very challenging to deal with. After one girl came forward, every other girl in that room came forward and said that they had been sexually assaulted in St Andrews. 

 

Those few minutes have stuck with Emily since. She was scared and it was the only thing that provided any hesitation about going to St Andrews. She reasoned with herself saying that every University campus has an element of rape culture and St Andrews had everything else she could’ve hoped for. In the end, she made the choice to go to University of St Andrews and would never regret it. However, after being in St Andrews for just one academic year, she has noticed that this culture has not changed since 2014 despite women’s empowerment movements such as the MeToo Movement.  

 

Source: Wikimedia

 

Emily’s fears about St Andrews are among the fears of many other students at this university, the majority of them female and reveal the alarming sexual assault culture universities perpetuate Around July 2, an Instagram account @standrewssurvivors posted for the first time. The anonymous platform was created in order to “empower survivors of sexual violence at the University of St Andrews by hearing their stories.” This account is in no way affiliated with the University. It has simply provided survivors a platform to anonymously share their firsthand experiences in St Andrews in order to raise awareness. The University has commented on the account and stated that “The experiences shared by St Andrews Survivors are unacceptable and we do not underestimate their effects.” However, in many of these stories, survivors have gone to Student Services, as the University recommends, and the treatment they’ve gotten is completely unacceptable and, in some cases, has done more harm than good. Another thing we would like to point out is that the University has said that “Documented disclosures are vital if we want to confront this issue as effectively as we can.” We need survivors to come forward to the University. While this is an extremely challenging and frightening step, it is considered by some to be the most important step and vital to change being made. 

 

However, on July 6, the account owner of @standrewssurvivors released a post explaining that they were contacted by the Proctor of the University and told that “including information that identifies alleged perpetrators individually, or as members of religious or social groups, may cause issues in terms of fairness, antisemitism, and student safety.” Therefore, the account admin made a decision to take down the posts that had details about specific groups after the advice from the university. This is in reference to various societies and sports clubs in St Andrews, and the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), whose members were accused of sexual assault in various anonymous posts on @standrewssurvivors. AEPi alone had at least 12 allegations of rape and sexual assault in St Andrews.  The Proctor’s messages to the account owner highlights the University’s focus on its own image rather than helping students deal with trauma and harrowing experiences while in St Andrews. Said one survivor, “As a victim of sexual assault, this kind of silencing just exemplifies the institutionalised misogyny that many elitist universities perpetuate. Rather than standing by the victims and addressing the problem, this university decided to take the side of the assaulters and silence our voices.” While it is understood that the University needs to protect all their students and societies, they need to do a much better job aiding survivors. 

 

Source: @standrewssurvivors

 

On July 7, AEPi responded with a statement on their Instagram page (@aepiyka) that the St Andrews chapter of AEPi “had no involvement in the removal of posts containing allegations of sexual misconduct against our members, nor do we believe these survivors’ stories in any way constitute anti-Semitism.  We unconditionally encourage survivors to continue to come forward in whatever capacity they feel comfortable, and it is crucial that there be a safe space for them to do so.” Overall, it is the student body that has undertaken an enormous call to action in trying to combat the university’s lack thereof.  Students encouraged each other to email the Proctor and the university, challenged AEPi to respond to the allegations, and posted on social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to try and bring awareness to these serious problems.   

 

On July 8, @standrewssurvivors gave us all some refreshing news in this community movement. The post detailed that the admin of the account was working closely in tandem with the University in order to make change. They clarified that the Proctor did not tell them to take the posts down, but instead “recommended that using any identifiers was potentially dangerous [for me] as well as the survivors who submitted them.” After the admin’s meeting with the Proctor, AVP of Diversity, and the head of Student Services, came forward and said the University is supportive of the account and have been very helpful to the admin. The admin of @standrewssurvivors stated that “I am now joined by a team of survivors who are going to run this account with me. Following today’s meeting with the Proctor we are going to be working with her and other departments moving forward to assure the voices of survivors are heard and that we as students feel protected.” 

 

Source: @standrewssurvivors

 

The stories on @standrewssurvivors represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger, systemic problem in St Andrews and universities as a whole, it has engaged in the first step of giving survivors a voice and platform where they have none.  While the page did receive much criticism, (some people claimed it was irresponsible and the stories may trigger victims of trauma) each post did indeed place a warning beforehand to inform people of the content they would read.  Overall, many students engaged with the page, and it currently still has about 50 posts, despite some being taken down.  Most importantly, the university must acknowledge the stories of survivors and do more than the minimum to help them. This sentiment was summarised in a statement given by a St Andrews student – “Choosing the side of a group of students known to be sexual assaulters over the women of St Andrews who have been subject to their rape and assault is absolutely pathetic.  It’s clear that the university has something to gain from protecting these men, and from them labelling the accusations as potentially anti-Semitic is just a scare tactic to silence sexual assault victims.” 

 

With the shocking number of stories revealed in just a few days, the statistics are probably far higher than we know, and reveals the university’s normalisation of sexual assault. For example, one student stated, “I had told my friends once that while on a night out, a boy confidently reached his hand up my skirt, and they had responded that that type of behaviour was normal around here.” Students at St Andrews, whether female or male should not have to fear that being sexually assaulted at St Andrews is a rite of passage during their time at university. The university must acknowledge what has happened, hold the perpetrators accountable, and help to alleviate trauma for survivors of sexual violence.  While there seems to be some progress from the Proctor’s communication with the admin of @standrewssurvivors, the university still has much work to do.  Many students still believe that the university is blatantly trying to hide the voices of survivors, which some have deemed shameful, cowardly, and irresponsible.  At the end of the day, university should be an environment where its students feel safe and supported and as one of the world’s leading institutions, St Andrews has failed its students.  We must stop silencing the survivors and instead stand with them, and demand that St Andrews do the same at both an administrative and institutional level.  

 

We would like to thank the anonymous students who reached out to us and gave statements about their experiences to make this article possible.  We would also like to thank @standrewssurvivors for bringing these issues into light through a public platform where people were able to make their voice heard.  Most importantly, we at The Stand show our support to and stand with sexual assault and rape survivors in St Andrews.  We hear your voices and want to listen.  If you would like to reach out, please contact us at standrewsthestand@gmail.com 

 

Source: Maiah Khin

 Article contributors: Emily Goggin, Maiah Khin, & Bella DiPietro  

 

 

 

 

 

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