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UPDATE: the two students will not be returning to Warwick, the Vice Chancellor has confirmed in a statement.
On Monday, Warwick student Megan Wain shared a post discussing the news that the University has made a decision to allow members of the group chat which hit the headlines last year to return to Warwick this September.
In a statement by University of Warwick Provost Professor Christine Ennew, it was stated that “The University remains clear that the behaviour of the individuals who have been found culpable as a result of the investigation, and in the subsequent disciplinary processes, is both abhorrent and unacceptable in any circumstance. The behaviour shown by the individuals concerned goes against all of our values as a community. We are sorry that the decision as a result of our processes has upset so many members of our own community and beyond.”
A BBC article detailed that “Two students were originally banned for 10 years over that group chat – but their ban has been reduced after they appealed and they will now be allowed to return later this year.”
The chat included messages from the members discussing violent rape, sexism, racism, misogyny, paedophilia, threats of sexual abuse and threats to perform FGM on female students. An investigation into the chat began as soon as the University were made aware.
The investigation involved the women explicitly mentioned in the chat; in the BBC article, Meg explained that “For the past 10 months with the investigation ongoing I’ve been incredibly anxious and upset. I’ve really suffered with my mental health. With this week’s news I’m angry more than I am upset so that’s why I’m speaking out,” (Newsbeat).
She also mentioned that “other female students named in the Facebook group have also suffered because of the “time-consuming, tiring and frustrating” process of reporting the incident to Warwick Uni.”
For context, if you haven’t already seen the chat, below is just one example of some of the messages sent. (Photo taken from Megan Wain’s post).
Women mentioned in the group chat will also be returning to Warwick next year, and in her post, Megan reiterated that “I’m furious that Warwick university has granted appeals to allow [the members of the chat] to return next year, even after a second group chat emerged with messages from the same perpetrators, stating they were not sorry and should “do it all again”. I’m furious, upset, and appalled with my university, and frankly I don’t feel safe.”
Since her post, Warwick’s student newspaper the Boar have also commented on it. Including the information that Warwick’s Director of Press was involved with the investigation, and when contacted for their thoughts, they responded saying “The University of Warwick stands by the investigation.”
Warwick students are holding a demonstration on Wednesday at 1PM; for more information you can see the event here.
A Change.Org petition titled ‘Don’t allow those involved in group chat at Warwick Uni back. Say No To Violence on Campus.’ has already gone over 35,000 signatures.
President Liam Jackson, on behalf of Warwick SU, stated:
“This does not change what we set out in our video statement. The Vice-Chancellor needs to act upon demands that students decide for themselves around this issue. The VC needs to hear for himself the impact on students. We demand a safe and respectful campus for all”.
We also asked Rahul Mathasing, Loughborough Students’ Union President, for a statement.
“At Loughborough Students’ Union and Loughborough University, we always want to encourage students to come forward to us with any issues that they feel compromise their safety or wellbeing.
“These concerns will always be upheld due to Welfare and the maintaining of the student experience being our first priority.
“While I can’t attest to the processes of other institutions, I cannot comprehend how a decision has been made that undermines the concerns of seriously affected students and compromises their sense of safety and community.”
There is currently no public evidence about the reasons Warwick university has allowed the appeals to pass (discipline appeals are often kept private, this is not unusual). However, if the appeal process is anything similar to here at Loughborough, it would be expected that those who appealed would have presented significant, and potentially new evidence as to why the 10-year ban should be reduced.
In their statement, the University said that “In neither case was the appeal about the issue of culpability (this was not challenged and the students concerned accepted that aspect of the original decision). Rather, the appeals panel focused instead on the scale of the penalties. As a result of those hearings two adjustments were made.”
On top of this, the Vice-Chancellor Professor Stuart Croft included in his statement that “in the university processes, not all 11 have been found to be guilty. Some on the chat did not participate, and indeed, protested against what was being said. To ban those would be against our processes, natural justice and, again, would probably be illegal.”
There is much speculation about the reasons for the appeal decision; these include the importance of nuance, monetary influences, and the level of the members involvement within the chat. Due to lack of communication, at the time of this article’s publication, there is currently no certain clarity as to what has occurred to allow a reduced sentence from the appeals process.
On top of this, a serious issue which is outside the fault of the university is the judicial action which can be taken in situations such as Warwick’s. Currently, as none of the members of the group chat took action on their words, they cannot be prosecuted in court.
This means universities will struggle to take action as they can’t say criminal actions were taken. It also highlights a fault that there is no procedure for situations such as what Warwick has experienced.
In their statement, the University reiterated that “The police were consulted at the very start of the process and they reviewed the material. They decided that there were no matters in which they could bring any charges and that they were content for the University investigation to proceed.”
The VC also included in his statement, “What can we say further on this case? Very little. And that is because there is a high likelihood of legal action being taken (not by the university) and as such, further comment is liable to be used in evidence. Some people have been found guilty of a disciplinary offence at the university, and they will carry that forward on their cvs.”
Overall, this is a difficult situation for everyone involved. Label stands by those affected and hopes an agreement will be reached which ensures the safety of students on campus and sets a precedent for future events, and would welcome further communication from the University so that all aspects of the situation can be considered.
Featured image by: Amie Woodyatt