University College Dublin (UCD) has released new drafts of their Dignity and Respect Policies for review to students and staff this week. 

The four documents contain proposed revisions of the University’s Dignity and Respect Policy, which concern bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct and how these issues will be dealt with by UCD’s Management team moving forward.

Two separate policies and procedures have been developed: one for bullying and harassment, and one for sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. Currently, these issues fall under the single Dignity and Respect Policy.  

UCD stated that separate policies have been written to “make it easier to engage the student and employee community when promoting the new [sexual harassment and misconduct] policy” and to highlight that bullying and sexual harassment require different solutions and victim supports.  

The proposed informal procedures for reporting bullying or sexual harassment are different, but UCD says the formal complaints procedures are “identical, in order to streamline the process for those involved”. The new policies place a greater emphasis than before on increasing individual awareness of the available complaint mechanisms and in encouraging victims and witnesses to report any incidents of harassment, bullying, or sexual misconduct. 

There is also an increased focus on ensuring members of the UCD community are given proper training to respond to incidents and provide support, as well as increasing accountability by ensuring the number of complaints is monitored and reported to senior management.

The revised procedure for formal complaints now includes precautionary measures that can be imposed upon a student or employee against whom a complaint has been made while a complaint is under review. This can include a “neutral suspension” where a student is suspended from their studies, or a staff member is suspended with pay. 

The proposed Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct Procedure also contains detailed guidelines tailored for students or employees who have been a victim of sexual assault. The current policy does not contain specific recommendations for this group. 

The proposed changes are subject to review by staff and students. UCD is seeking feedback from both groups through their website before any changes are made official, stating “It is essential that we get your feedback on these important documents to ensure that the University is meeting the needs of our students and employees regarding Bullying and Harassment and Sexual Harassment and Sexual Misconduct”. These policies were last subject to review in 2017. 

UCD’s proposed revisions have the potential to bring about positive change in how the University deals with harassment on campus, but it remains to be seen how these policies will be implemented and whether they will have a real impact on the lives of students and staff. 

In September, UCD faced criticism when several female members of academic staff spoke publicly about the lack of supports available to those suffering sexual harassment on campus. This included Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, whose account of sexual harassment by a colleague at UCD was published in The Irish Times. Her experience continued for two years after she initially made UCD authorities aware of the issue.

Isobel Dunne – Reporter