The last few weeks, our Facebook feeds have been filled with posts from UoO: Meaningful Confessions about the Critic Knox article. We’ve seen people defending the college, apologising on its behalf, and denouncing traditions and managerial problems that would allow sexual assaults to occur and go unresolved.
No one in a residential college, or anywhere for that matter, should have to feel alone. Residential colleges are meant to be, and for many people are, a community that instils a sense of safety, inclusion, and pride. We know people from every college, including Knox, that embody the best of these values, both residents and RAs.
We’ve also heard the horror stories. We’ve had friends confide in us about the people who destroyed that sense of safety, and about the well-meaning people who didn’t respond to the gravity of the situation, leaving them feeling powerless. We’ve read the Knox article, where people had the bravery to come forward and talk about their experiences of not only sexual assault, but also of a college failing to make sure students feel safe in day-to-day life. We’ve heard the statistics: Thursdays in Black’s report ‘In Our Own Words’ found that 1 in 5 student sexual assaults occur in residential colleges. This is an issue which many of us are ignorant about, until someone close to us is affected.
Everyone has a different experience at a residential college - and that’s valid. Your experience makes you no more or less a member of that community than anyone else. While we’d never presume to speak on Critic’s behalf, we feel the need to emphasise: the coverage on Knox is not an assault on Knox, it is an assault on sexual assault. Many residential colleges have had issues with sexual harassment and assault, and all of these should be treated with urgency and respect. You can be proud of your college and of your time there, whilst also being aware of how they need to do better.
So how do we move forward? The bare minimum is to not get complacent, because issues like these only worsen without meaningful accountability. Talk to your mates and call them out if they’re making someone uncomfortable. Get support if you think you need it, and show solidarity through initiatives such as Thursdays in Black. Look for the small issues in our colleges’ culture or infrastructure, and bring them to light before they become more serious. Listen to people when they talk about their experiences and empathise, instead of invalidating them. There are things we can do everyday to address sexual assault and make our colleges a better, safer environment. We can do better at Otago.
We also have to acknowledge the survivors. Whatever your thoughts on the Knox article, it takes immeasurable strength to be open about experiences like these.
If you or a friend think you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to OUSA Student Support, Te Whare Tāwharau, or even reach out to us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org - both confidential and open to all.