Content warning: This article makes reference to sexual violence.
Last Thursday 9 August 2018, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor S Bruce Dowton, hosted the Respect. Now. Always. (RNA) Action Plan launch event for students and staff, with more than 100 attending.
The Vice-Chancellor spoke openly about his personal commitment to combatting sexual assault and sexual harassment, discussed the RNA Action Plan, and called on all members of the Macquarie University community to engage with the RNA Project to bring about the change we need.
The RNA (2018 – 2020) Action Plan sets out Macquarie University’s approach to preventing and responding to acts of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The Plan identifies seven focus areas including support available, reporting and complaint-making, strengthening individual knowledge and skills and policy development.
The event also invited students and staff to come together as a community to discuss the issue of sexual harassment with a panel of speakers. Facilitated by Human Resources Director, Nicole Gower, the panel featured Associate Professor Michael Salter from the University of Western Sydney, and, from Macquarie University, Professor Catharine Lumby, Dr Carmen Germain, Associate Professor Lisa Wynn, and student Amanda Fotheringham.
Associate Professor Lisa Wynn, Head of the Department of Anthropology, spoke about her experience as a postgraduate student at Princeton University, where a professor sexually harassed her for years. Lisa later commented:
I don’t ever want to see that happen to anyone under my watch… That’s why, when I became head of the Anthropology at Macquarie, I sent an e-mail to all staff and students in my department telling them what had happened to me. I reminded them of Macquarie University policy against sexual harassment, and I told them that if they experience it, I’ll listen to them and I’ll stand for them.
While the RNA Action Plan is a significant document in supporting accountability for action, the implementation of the actions outlined in the Plan depends on the engagement of the Macquarie community.
With education being used as the foremost cultural change strategy of the University, there are a number of actions that can be taken within the learning and teaching sphere.
What you can do:
1. Enrol in and promote the RNA iLearn community page
After communicating regularly with staff and students at Macquarie, the team received consistent feedback that iLearn is one of the most accessible platforms for communication. One student from the RNA Student Advisory Group even commented that an iLearn RNA site would be a good procrastination outlet!
The RNA community unit on iLearn offers a familiar, accessible portal for all students and staff. It provides information about support services on and off campus, student workshops, and other resources related to preventing and responding to sexual assault and sexual harassment, including information in languages other than English. Consent Matters, a component of the RNA education offering has been embedded into the iLearn site. Last week, all 2018 first year students were enrolled in the RNA iLearn site, representing approximately 10,000 students.
With this site, we’ve aimed to create not just an educational tool, but also a resource and communication platform that can be accessed by as many members of the University community as possible.
2. Promote RNA education offerings to students (and even complete the Consent Matters course yourself!)
At Macquarie, Consent Matters forms one part of the RNA education programme, with face-to-face workshops also being offered to students. The online module was made available to all students and staff at the beginning of Session 1, 2018, and all Macquarie students and staff can access and complete the course via the RNA iLearn page. Enrol here, or download this guide to read more about how to access the course.
Consent Matters covers topics that have a focus on communication and relationships, such as consent in sexual relationships, as well as how to take action if you witness something happening on campus. It is expected that all students at Macquarie complete Consent Matters as part of their studies. The team is using this session to monitor and evaluate student and staff engagement with Consent Matters, with the view to mandate completion of the online module.
3. Talk to students and colleagues about the expectations and values at Macquarie University.
Lisa Wynn urges all staff to publicly express that acts of sexual assault and sexual harassment are not tolerated at Macquarie, and to raise awareness within your area of work:
“I think it’s important for everyone in a leadership position at this University – and who doesn’t have a leadership position? – to publicly communicate our position on sexual harassment. That way, no one has to wonder if someone will listen to them. Sexual harassment thrives in an environment of silence and shame and people looking the other way. By raising awareness and opening up spaces to talk about these issues, not only can we address harassment when it happens, hopefully we can prevent it from happening in the first place.”
By the RNA Team
Thank you to all the staff and students who have completed Consent Matters and enrolled in the RNA iLearn site to date. If you have any questions, or would like any further information on how you can get involved, please contact the RNA team at firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on support, please visit mq.edu.au/respect
If you need support to assist a student, please contact Campus Wellbeing.