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“It’s easier after you’ve had 30 different cases” – handling harassment on campus

By Samuel Pennifold

Editorial note – Edits have been made to this article after its initial release.

Many first-year students were left disturbed by the tone and content of the “Respect and Living Together” presentation given on the first day of the 2022 autumn semester. 

Unable to close your mouth from the absurdity of it, the “Respect and Living Together” presentation was akin to watching a car crash in real time and felt like it was little more than an exercise in covering the ass of the Institute. The presentation was delivered by the Institution’s external representative, Aurélie De Francesco, who is charged with ensuring the continuity of the harassment complaints process, who detailed the procedures students can go through to make a formal harassment complaint against a member of staff or a fellow student. Whilst there is value in this process being made clear to students, the tone was way off and lurched from victim blaming to a thinly veiled attempt to scare you from coming forward. 

One can understand the basic need for a clear process that provides documentation for an ongoing escalation process. However, such an approach offers little to no sense of protection for students and shows that pastoral care is low on the list of priorities for the Institute. Shockingly, students had to wait for the closing Q&A section of the presentation to be half directed, with a slightly perplexed look from the presenter, as to where one could receive pastoral care from the Student Services department. The duty of care the Institute holds should be its primary concern in responding to and dealing with harassment, not placing the burden of immediately having to file a complaint after you have convinced the powers that be that you are not just upset or in a bad mood.

For the initial message from the Institute on the handling of harassment on campus to come from such as legalistic perspective fundamentally shifts an important conversation away from support, to stressing the burden of proof placed on those who have experienced harassment – sexual or otherwise. A move that will not fill first-year students with a sense of their safety on campus. 

For the primary consent education resource to be a video designed for high school-aged students as a lighter introduction to consent, making a once humorous but now dystopian comparison of tea and rape suggests a severe lack of understanding and action on behalf of the Institute. At 21 years old and above, one should not need a humorous approach to understand the basic tenets of consent. As mature adults and future leaders, IHEID students should be treated as such. 

Consent should be talked about in frank, open, and honest conversations focused on zero tolerance, not a zero retaliation policy. It is concerning for the general culture of the university that such a zero-retaliation policy must be so stringently highlighted during an orientation presentation.

The closing remarks delivered by Michal Sela, Deputy Head of Student Services who has volunteered to take on this role and is helping to shift institutional attitudes, highlights what seems to the key issue – communication. “It’s easier after you’ve had 30 different cases”; of course Sela and no one else on campus wants to see 30 harassment cases of any type, but a focus on the cold pragmatic process of reporting left students feeling on edge and unresponsive to the positive progress that has been made and the Institute will continue to make.

Progress has been made but there is still some distance to be covered for students.

3 comments on ““It’s easier after you’ve had 30 different cases” – handling harassment on campus

  1. Massimiliano Masini

    Thanks for this! It is great to see TGP taking the lead once again in pointing out the shortcomings of the new Code of Conduct and its Implementation Guidelines. Despite the many substantive criticisms expressed by last year’s TGP editorial Board, GISA, ADA, and the IR/PS PhD students, the drafts of both documents that were approved by the Foundation Board last month (and are now the official Code and Guidelines) just integrate a few formal points (tbh making me feel like our criticisms were turned in free proof-reading labour rather than resulting in substantive changes). I hope this piece is just the first step of a renewed collective mobilisation that brings us all together to obtain the long-waited victim-centric and trauma-informed process that the Institute needs in order to deal with the many instances of (sexual) harassment that have gone unadressed in the past years and will keep going unadressed without substantive institutional and cultural change.


  2. robertmendelssohn

    Great read! It is stunning to see how throughout the years – and despite the apparent resources that seem to be mobilised – the relation of trust between students and governing bodies is unfortunately not improving, and how the paternalisation/infantilisation dynamic seems to remain. There must be examples of how other academic institutions are (more-) successfully dealing with such organisational matters. So what I don’t understand is that, if the intent is actually to improve the situation for every stakeholders, why put so much effort, energy and resources in doing something different than what is already functioning out there and recognized as such?


  3. Pingback: Fall 2022 GISA Candidates’ Forum – The Highlights – The Graduate Press

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