University of Warwick students have been involved in a peaceful sit in on their campus. The sit in started on the 18th of March, and is still going. We spoke to Protect Warwick Women about their goals, the sit in, and what message they’re trying to spread.
When we spoke to the group, they mentioned the need for people to educate themselves on what constitutes sexual assault and harassment, and to call their friends out on problematic behaviour. For anyone looking to educate themselves, can find plenty of information online, on pages like Rape Crisis, Citizens Advice, and CRASAC (which the group themselves supports).
How did the sit in first start?
“The sit in first started after numerous people talked about their experiences of SA (sexual assault) on campus by way of social media, we decided that there wasn’t enough being done in way of support and wanted to change this.”
How did you spread the message for others to join, and how many of you are there?
“We spread the message almost entirely through Instagram and Snapchat, getting people to share our posts and talk about these issues with their friends. It was quite successful as we estimate around 350 people attended at peak.”
How long have you been sitting in for?
“We’ve been sitting in since Thursday the 18th at 4 pm, so it’s around 92 hours now.” – as of mid-morning Monday 22nd of March
Have you had any contact from the uni or the police?
“The police did actually approach us and originally asked us to move, but after talking to them they were happy for us to carry on and even said they’d send emails to the uni on our behalf.”
Do you feel like you’ve made any progress with your protest?
“We feel like we’ve made some progress, in that the issue is now being widely talked about however the university hasn’t agreed to anything yet, we’ll know more at 2pm today.”
What message do you want to spread that we can share to our readers?
“The primary message we want to share is that there are services to support survivors and we implore your readers to seek help should they need it. You will be seen, you will be believed.”
How can others help or join you?
“To help, you can either come sit with us in the piazza (provided you wear masks and distance) or we have a go fund me where you can help us get items to continue the sit in, i.e sleeping bags, tents etc.”
How much longer do you think you’ll be there for?
“Obviously we’re hopeful the sit in won’t have to go on for too long as we want these changes enacted soon. However, the last sit in lasted 30 days so We’re expecting to be out here at least a while longer.”
The group has now released their demands, and they are as follows, for more detail read the document here:
- A revamp training of staff, security, and RLT regarding sexual violence and consent
- Regular, obligatory online and in-person training for students (1-2 hrs per term)
- Self-defence workshops
- Informative resources distributed in welcome week
- Signposted safe spaces
- Distribution of rape alarms
- Emergency towers
- Safety section included in the university app
- Ensure police are not present on campus unless necessary (i.e if a crime has taken place)
- Option for pastoral care in the event of sexual assault
- Intersectionality and inclusivity of support
- Peer support group scheme
- Improvement of wellbeing services
- Emphasis on language used (i.e rape, not ‘non-consensual sex’)
- Distribution of information on support
- Amnesty for organisers and attendees of sit-in
- Zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence on campus
- A sanction report summarising punishments for SA
- Survivor support
- Set time frames for cases
- CCTV policy and procedure published
- Creation of a gender taskforce
UPDATE 22nd March 2021
On 22nd March, the group met with Helen Knee, a university official. They were reassured that the university is ‘working on it’, and were given statements on what they were doing. In the summary given on Protect Warwick Women’s Instagram afterwards, the group lamented that they “don’t need convincing that what they’re doing is working, it’s not working”, and that during the meeting, they ‘told (the uni) in no uncertain terms that what they’re doing right now is not good enough”.
The group are adamant that they will be staying in the campus piazza until they have written confirmation that the university will be meeting all of their demands by 1st September 2021.
In another part of the group’s summary, they said that the university “need to meet all of our demands and we’re not compromising”.
Last night they also replied to a series of follower questions on their story, including:
What do we do now? Besides donating to the cause and spreading awareness?
“Please email uni officials like Stuart Croft asking them to acknowledge the sit in and take action.”
If we live off campus can we join you on the piazza?
“Yes!! Just wear a mask and stay socially distanced.”
Have any academic staff members shown support (either directly or indirectly)?
“Haven’t received any support from individual departments however we have from RLT and also from electrical staff who helped us make sure that all of our electrical items were safe and waterproofed.”
How much longer are you planning on staying?
“Until we have written communication from the Uni that they will enforce all our demands by 1 September 2021.”
Have the uni done anything, ie provide security, to ensure all is safe, especially overnight?
“They have done NOTHING. They are literally avoiding us, I wonder if something happened here and we needed help if they would even come.”
The group have also spoken about the possibility of taking further measures, such as hunger strikes, occupying public indoor spaces or boycotts.
They have a meeting today with the Registrar, Director of Wellbeing and Safeguarding.
UPDATE 26th March 2021
The group have been signposting campus with stories of sexual assault and examples of the university’s failures to support victims. The university has just been taking them down.
The group has received some support from the student union, and has had another chance at contact with the university.
UPDATE 29th March 2021
The group have a meeting with the university security team on the 29th March to discuss their points. To prepare for this they asked their 2k followers their feeling son the security team and its necessity.
UPDATE 1st April 2021
As of 4pm on the 31st of March, Protect Warwick Women are now selling phone cases, sweatshirts and hoodies through the Warwick brand UNFIT Warwick. Proceeds go to helping the cause.
Additionally, following a meeting with the security team and safeguarding director, the group has realised that they have ‘hit a brick wall’. The university is seemingly just refusing to assist them, and so they are now looking at ways of escalating their protest without inconveniencing students or damaging property.
UPDATE 6th April 2021
400+ hours later, the group are still sitting in. They posted an update on their Instagram on Sunday to summarise everything so far. They have had 7 meetings with the university, and have finally had an email from Stuart Croft. The university are being very generic in their responses but have shown ‘support’ for several of the demands.
They are still sitting in as the university seem to be uninterested in their statistics, and the public response of the university does not match that which has met them in meetings. They still want the university to agree to introduce some alternative to campus security, employ more diverse staff, improve wellbeing services, acknowledge that their policies are not zero-tolerance, and commit to reform and improve security.
In addition to this, Protect Warwick Women’s demands are now part of the university’s Rent Strike demands. The group is calling on all students to continue withholding their rent money in solidarity of both the rent strike and the sit in. In a statement on this, the group said: “The university is neglecting the safety of its students on campus and refusing to address the rampant sexual assault at Warwick. Once again, the university has failed us. Hold on to your rent to hurt their finances and share this (an Instagram post) to hurt their reputation. If you have paid your rent for Term 2, then withold Term 3’s rent in solidarity with the occupiers and the strikers.”
Finally, over Easter weekend, the group did some research via their social media to see what they needed to improve on as representatives of the Warwick student body. They addressed these points on Instagram, pledging to hold themselves accountable for mess at the occupation site, food waste and finding sustainable solutions, loud music and noise, and promising integrity and transparency with their funds.