Confronting and Challenging Sexual Violence in a Collegiate University

Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, Assistant Senior Tutor, Hatfield College, Durham, UK

On 17th November 2014, staff, students, and stakeholders from universities across North East England gathered for the 8th North East Conference on Sexual Violence. The theme for this year’s conference was ‘Sexual Violence on Campus’. This blog post explores how the relatively small ‘communities within communities’ created by a collegiate system may both offer greater opportunities for staff and students to address damaging culture and present challenges for individuals wishing to address or report incidents of sexual violence. 

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Raising the curtain – and ideas for an ‘ideal’ college

With the opening of the conference almost upon us, and with many delegates even now en route to Durham, this final pre-conference post on the Collegiate Way Blog is our opportunity to start to raise the curtain – or, if that would be premature, at least to give the curtain a twitch!

A few numbers to begin with… As you’ll shortly discover by meeting one another and comparing notes, the conference has 100 delegates, from some thirty two colleges, themselves drawn from twenty universities, variously distributed across nine countries in five continents. So you have a fair claim to representing a global collegiate community all in one place for the coming few days! And if we add in two members of our International Advisory Committee who unfortunately aren’t able to attend, then we can’t think of a single major collegiate university anywhere that isn’t represented in the conference. So, even before meeting you, thank you for your part in what is thereby already a very significant milestone in the direction of ‘global collegiate consciousness.’

Here in Durham city, ten of the fourteen colleges are waiting to receive you into residence and/or Senior Common Room membership. We’ve tried to interfere as little as possible with the scheduling of events in those colleges in order to give you – on Tuesday and Thursday evenings – a decently-authentic flavour of their various expressions of collegiate life, student activities, and the fellowship of the table. Of course, some events have been re-timed or augmented, but for the most part you will be immersing yourselves in colleges as they are ordinarily found here. It is the University’s “Environment Week” so expect some hints of green around the place.

Variety in what one might call the different ‘personalities’ of our colleges (something that embraces style, ethos, purpose and collective temperament) is something we really prize, and aim to promote. There are common purposes, of course – providing a safe, secure, welcoming and comfortable environment with the highest standards of personal and pastoral support and supporting a broad range of opportunities for recreational, sporting and artistic endeavour. But since we all ought to be doing that anyway, the challenge is to flourish in different and distinctive ways over and above the ‘standard’ high quality student experience. We hope you’ll be able to get at least a brief taste of more than one college while you’re with us, and form a view of what may be interestingly different between them.

A while ago when we got through the early rounds of organising the conference’s preparatory arrangements, we asked ourselves what an ideal – an absolutely ideal – college would be like, if money and goodwill were no object, and regulatory restrictions were in abeyance. It was an entertaining question to consider, and one you might like to ponder – perhaps en route if you’re reading this while travelling. So here are some of our suggested ingredients.

People first: a community genuinely small enough for everyone to know everyone else by name – but big enough to be able comfortably to field our chosen sports teams, our performing arts ensembles and a vibrant social life. Shall we say: four hundred students? – comprising undergraduates in all years of study across a broad subject range, with research and taught postgraduates and a resident senior common room awash with permanent and visiting fellows! We’ll leave it an open question as to whether all students reside in college for the whole of their studies, but a clear majority in residence seems desirable. As for staff, we’ll opt for a fully-catered arrangement sustained by permanent kitchen, serving, cleaning and portering staff who, by virtue of their undivided service to a single college, are fully members of that college’s community. The same holds for welfare, student support, admissions and administrative staff in numbers that do justice to the needs of the college community – and we’d want to see the senior college officers all resident, fully and visibly members of the community.

And now to the physical college. Architectural style is a many-splendour’d thing, but the buildings and grounds should in any case be purpose-designed and purpose-built, and they should achieve beauty and distinction as well as comfort. Detailed aesthetic debates probably begin at this point(!) but some outline desiderata from us might be as follows:

Inside: a dining hall large enough to dine the entire college at a single sitting, whilst sufficiently (and unobtrusively) dividable to sit smaller numbers informally and at ‘rolling’ mealtimes; and sufficiently splendid to impress on large formal occasions yet without being oppressive at other times. Large, light, airy single study-bedrooms with en-suite facilities throughout, and so arranged that communities are instantly-formed; the buildings as a whole to be arranged such that every bedroom has a splendid view over college grounds and a large, though easily-shaded, picture window through which to enjoy the prospect. Pantries aplenty to ensure easy self-catering when desired. A theatre space and a musical auditorium (each of these separately necessary owing to their distinct acoustic requirements of course). Plenty of well-appointed common spaces for student recreational and cultural activities, as well as a bar and dance floor – all of the foregoing easily accessible but, in terms of sound, well-insulated from bedroom areas. Corridors wide and light enough to serve as art exhibition spaces.

Outside: Rolling lawns, wooded slopes and a really big lake with room at least for recreational rowing; good patio/picnic areas, sheltered sunny places for relaxation and summertime exam revision; to delight the eye, plenty of flowering shrubs everywhere for colour without the hard work, and some real specimen trees of distinction; for culinary pleasures a walled kitchen garden, allotment and orchard (the wall being, shall we say, for administrative convenience); tennis courts (astroturf and grass, please); and – betraying something of our own cultural heritage – a cricket oval and a rugby pitch. This really doesn’t seem too much to ask for (although Junior Common Rooms wanting a nine-hole golf course situated in college grounds must apply to the Bursar).

One final luxury from each of us, oblivious to cost or the constraints of health and safety. Martyn: a ‘live steam’ miniature railway of the sit-on-and-ride variety please, running around and through the college grounds. The role of engine-driver can become a Junior Common Room elected Executive position. When we need a bit of extra cash, we can open it up to the public. Tim: a large pipe organ for the auditorium, with thousands of stops including a 32-foot rank, maybe even 64 foot if the building can stand it!

Well, if the foregoing provokes your own further ideas, please bring them with you to add to the pot and we can see if the Collegiate Way 2014 conference can cook up the recipe for an ideal future college. We can tackle the funding questions later…

Meanwhile, best wishes for safe travelling, and we look forward to seeing you very soon.

Martyn and Tim

Hatfield: ‘The chance to read Milton on a roof’

Jeremy Vine, Hatfield College alumnus and BBC Presenter@thejeremyvine

Finally. This is the moment to confess the incident with the scaffolding. Workers put it up outside Hatfield College in 1984. Repairing the roof was the reason. My room was on the third floor; dusty sash windows, milk on the outside sill, all of that. I was eighteen when the planks were laid across stout metal scaffolding poles just beyond the glass. Honestly, it was all too tempting.

There was a warning, though.A few years ago a student had climbed the roof on a dare, possibly under the influence of Newcastle Brown. He lost his footing and plummeted twenty-five feet. The lad didn’t die, but was badly and permanently hurt. The story – true or not – offered those of us who heard it a chance to learn painlessly one of the rules of the adult lives we were beginning: Never tackle scaffolding unless sober.

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A Bystander’s view

Billy Allan, Royal Military College of Canada

I had the good fortune to be welcomed into Hatfield (Durham) College’s Senior Common Room as I took a one-year sabbatical leave from my university in Canada. In addition to pursuing my research, I immersed myself in the undergraduate community at my adopted college as a member of the Boat Club, which extended inevitably to other opportunities: musical, theatrical, spiritual, artistic and social.  Father of three university-age children myself, I was curious, and informally interviewed Durham students I met over the year regarding their motivation for coming to Durham University, rather than another of the many excellent universities in the UK.  A number made curious references to collegiate systems that were either “real” or “fake”.  I determined that “fake” systems seem to be centrally managed universities, artificially divided, administratively and numerically, into colleges, but that those colleges were more business units than communities.  I gathered that they were not understood to have cultures or souls of their own.  “Real” college systems exist where colleges appear to be independent organisations (key word: appear) with their own character, traditions and identity.  Students eat, study, learn, play and work together there.  Indeed, they seem to grow up in company. I do not doubt that there is a continuum between the poles of Fake and Real, and that financial efficiency favours one pole.  However, if you are to take it from the “mouths of babes”, there is a real and well-demonstrated demand for “Real” Collegiate systems.  I hope your conference is able to parse out the reasoning, and insist that a price be placed on losing them, for if they are overcome, there is little that can be done to restore them.

The College Role in Growing up.

Billy Allan, Royal Military College of Canada

I offer the following perspective based on my experience at the Royal Military College of Canada that, despite the name, is a small university where a full range of liberal arts, sciences, and six accredited streams of engineering are delivered.  With approximately 1000 undergraduates, it scales somewhat larger than a college at Durham.  The RMC of Canada dates to 1876, with a primary purpose to educate the Canadian military officer community.  As it grew, with soul-searching corrections prompted by WWI and WWII, the residential scholarly community organized itself into squadrons, that roughly parallel the collegiate system that is the subject of your conference.  Squadrons, with their own flights and sections, are the base unit of student community.  The size of these units is a topic of interest to the Conference, and the RMC squadron has ranged in size over the years from 30 or 50 to 100 officer cadets of all years. The primary reason for squadrons, from the perspective of this ex-cadet, ex-senior military officer and now professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, is to promote excellence through friendly competition and to facilitate a steep development curve by bonding senior students to junior students.  Intramural sport takes place between squadron teams, and sport of some fashion (varsity or intramural) is mandatory for all students.  These competitions extend to the military arts (obstacle course for the recruits, military drill and ceremonial activities) and professional skills (leadership, communication, deportment) community engagement (class projects in the local community) and simple team-building (talent shows, or charity fund-raising for example). Academic performance of squadron members figures prominently in the overall rankings, that are Hogwarts-like, although perhaps less arbitrary. The second advantage, equally important although for very different reasons, to having a manageable community unit at a university, pertains to the age and level of maturity of today’s student.  At the RMC of Canada, cadets arrive at 17 or 18 years of age, still very much in the middle.  The middle of growing up, facing such adventures as learning to drink or not, behave or not, romance or not, be brave physically, socially, academically or not.  They will win and they will lose, variously and ideally, in a balanced fashion. This happens best (and most safely) in a place where failure is acceptable and common, even synonymous with learning to succeed.  The rough edges of one’s  character are most painlessly chipped off by ones peers and friends. A close community is an essential feature of such a process. If successful, the students can collectively be driven to greater achievement at a pace that is unsupportable to any but the most extraordinary individual of the same age and maturity.  In the case of RMC, that means the Canadian public gets well-educated, well-socialized, confident and capable young officers in 3 years and 8 months.  Commissioned officer graduates are, for the most part, subjected to a short period of dedicated training, as they have been for their summers between academic terms, and placed in command roles where they are entrusted with the care and leadership of a score or a hundred soldiers, sailors or airmen and women of all ages, ranks and experiences.  This is possible only thanks to the full-spectrum development achievable in the friendly social cauldron that the collegiate system is. While RMC’s squadrons are smaller than Durham’s (and other collegiate universities’) colleges, the role is common and only the intensity varies.

I hope the themes of balanced cognitive and social development for the modern university student are explored in this conference, for success in this cannot be adequately costed out by the business planners that increasingly dominate the agenda in today’s universities. Furthermore I hope that, in the forgiving yet demanding environment of a college, and relying heavily on peer-leadership (that most difficult yet most effective lever), College officers will continue to execute their delicate task of building socially aware, engaged, talented and educated leaders.

Why do I get up in the morning?

Dr Anthony Bash, Senior Tutor, Hatfield College, Durham University, UK

It’s hard to avoid writing clichés, so I will do my best to explain in language that I hope does not make you groan!

Colleges are exciting places to be! They are scholarly, residential, and social communities. In other words, they represent the spectrum of life.

First, Colleges are scholarly and academic communities. As academics, we tend to be too much ‘in boxes’, specializing in our own narrow corner of learning. Colleges provide a forum not only for discovering what others are doing and thinking about, but also learning that what others are doing has relevance to one’s own field. How astonishing to have people from aged 18 to …well, a lot more than that, who are engaged in a variety of academic pursuits from geology to theology, from astrophysics to applied linguistics, from developmental psychopathology to sports science! Not only are they present in the same buildings, but also they live in the same buildings, eat in the same buildings, talk and relax in the same buildings, and pursue scholarly endeavour together in the same buildings. Continue reading

What do you do as Principal (Head) of a residential college?

Chris Massey (Director of Student Residences, and Master, University Hall, University of Western Australia)

Taking up the role of Principal of Currie Hall (The University of Western Australia owned and operated Hall of residence for 250 students) in late 2006 came with many challenges. Being recruited from outside the tertiary sector, and coming into a community which had only always previously appointed academic staff as Principal, presented me with a unique career experience…. an experience which I have thoroughly enjoyed!  In fact, I can’t imagine not working in the residential student environment. However, more than eight years on, there is still one question which I hesitate to answer, and I never think I do the question justice. The question? What do you do as Principal (Head) of a residential college? Continue reading