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Dear Minister Joe McHugh and Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor,


I hope this email finds you well. I am contacting you in relation to the publication of the USI’s Sexual Experiences Survey. Having attended the online launch of the report I was struck by the shockingly high proportion of students who had experienced sexual assault and violence. The findings clearly demonstrate a deeply concerning societal issue, where a huge cohort of students have encountered a traumatic experience relating to sexual assault and rape.


I note Minister Mitchell O’Connor’s’ comments at the launch in relation to work that you and the HEA have spearheaded in order to strengthen the response to this issue across all HEI’s. We welcome commitments to the implementation of the report recommendations.


While we appreciate that government formation talks are ongoing and a new cabinet will be appointed, UCD Students' Union would ask that you would use your positions to advocate that the incoming government pass the Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill as a matter of urgency.


We note the following provision in the programme for government “Develop inclusive and age-appropriate RSE and SPHE curricula across primary and post primary levels, including an inclusive programme on LGBTI+ relationships and making appropriate legislative changes, if necessary.” Access to objective and robust RSE, particularly in relation to consent and establishing respectful boundaries is something that must be prioritised going forward. There is still a huge degree of variance in the nature and quality of sex education that students receive before reaching higher education. Students should not have their first experience of objective information around consent at a university level, but unfortunately this remains the case in many circumstances.


A clear message needs to be sent out to students on a universal basis from an early age, providing a dual function of educating individual students and also opening up a dialogue around consent. Informing young people of their responsibilities towards their peers is essential, and students should know exactly what resources are available to them when they experience or observe unacceptable behaviour. Implementing the Provision of Objective Sex Education bill or similar legislative measures would demonstrate a clear commitment on behalf of the incoming government to tackling rape culture in Irish society.


Le gach dea-ghuí,


Ruairí Power


Welfare Officer


UCD Students’ Union

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Press Statement


Thursday, 25 June 2020


In response to the alarming results of the USI’s “Sexual Experience Survey” on sexual violence and harassment experience of students in higher education, UCDSU is calling on the incoming government to re-introduce the Provision of Objective Sex Education bill as a matter of urgency.


Ruairí Power, Welfare Officer, UCD Students’ Union said;


‘It is a shocking and upsetting revelation that 29% of females, 10% of males, and 28% of non-binary students in higher education reported “non-consenual penetration” in the USI survey. This year for the first time in UCD, a 90-minute mandatory bystander training course will be provided to all incoming first years. While this is a very positive development, students need to receive comprehensive education about consent at a much earlier stage, we cannot continue to fire fight this issue at Third Level and not seek to resolve it at an earlier stage. Enacting the Provision of Objective Sex Education bill, which lapsed when the last Dáil term expired, would be a welcome first step from the next government to ensure that students have access to objective and accurate information about relationships, sexuality and consent in primary and post-primary settings.’


Leighton Gray, Campaigns and Engagement Officer, UCD Students’ Union said;


‘The stark results of the USI’s Sexual Experience Survey is greater than a Higher Education issue. Ireland, as a country, is facing a huge problem with rape culture. Consent needs to be taught from a young age. It is too late to introduce the concept of consent at second or third level. That is the approach we have now and it is clearly failing. We need to learn to respect others’ boundaries as a core building block of our development as children to even have a chance of ending rape culture in Ireland. So many of our students are living in fear, so many of our students are living in silence. UCD students must commit to playing our part, alongside other universities and our government, to ending Irish rape culture.’

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To President Andrew J Deeks and all members of his University Management Team,

I do not wish to attack you.


I know how this statement might feel like an attack. In our world today, problems are so often polarised and our communications lack so greatly in nuance. I endeavour here to engage you in the most genuine good faith.

However, I expect that the content of this message will be deeply discomforting, even infuriating for you. I understand that you have struggled to understand why so many students feel so strongly that your approach to managing our university is deeply misguided. I understand that it is difficult to open yourself up to such radical criticism while also retaining faith in your ability to lead in an institution of such value as UCD. I understand – from psychological theory, personal experience and more – that criticism of this sort can feel like an existential threat to your entire reality. I know that hurts in a real and difficult way.

I ask that you personally – and anyone who subsequently reads this letter – accept it in good faith. I am not trying to seek revenge or righteousness. I do not presume to have some great answer which will fix the problems of our world. I simply feel that I must speak up – because I have seen crimes in this world that challenge my faith in humanity – and I seek to restore my faith through action. I would like as well to apologise for the perhaps overdramatic or stilted tone I have used so far and will likely use throughout this letter. I am not a greatly experienced writer and I have limited time in which to draft and edit this work. Again, I ask for your patience and invite you to read this statement with the greatest charity possible. I believe deeply that it is only by accepting the voices and views of others in charity and respect that justice can be achieved in the world. I hope you will give me opportunity to demonstrate such charity in turn.

This is not simply about one murder in the USA. It is not even simply about the situation in the USA or in the university or in the world in some general sense. This is not a simple matter at all.


In recent weeks, empowered by digital media and situations of culture which have never existed before, amidst a global health crisis unlike any we’ve ever seen before, in the broader context of mismanagement of new industrial technologies which threaten and continue to extinguish vast swaths of the beauty and diversity of life on earth, we have seen issues of race and systemic injustice thrust into the deepest level of the public consciousness.

We have seen, on video, in broad daylight, during a pandemic, an officer of the law crush the life out of an unarmed man while the entire process of the murder was captured on video recording. This is violence of a type that many of us have been lucky never to witness. It is deeply difficult, on a personal level, to process encountering such violence for the first time. Especially given our circumstances during the pandemic.

We have seen, when people took to the streets to demand justice – to speak out and bear witness to the brutality and injustice they have witnessed – as they are deeply compelled to do from their humanity – state forces crack down on them with violence that could legally be considered to constitute war crimes if it was conducted in a state of war. I have watched as the President of United States of America declared that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and threatened to send in the military to suppress non-violent citizen protest. I have feared that a civil war might erupt in the homes of my friends and family.

I could say more about the situation in the USA, but I think it’s important to take a broader perspective at this time.

I am not the first student in UCD to fear that my friends and family will be caught in a civil war. I am not the only student currently in UCD who has had imminent fear of war. Some of our students have been caught in war already. We never speak about this.


We call ourselves “Ireland’s Global University” and yet what did UCD say when the people of Sudan were shot down in the massacre of June 3rd. This was not some historic event of bygone decades, it was last summer. I witnessed it. I thank the Lord God I was not there myself to see that horror, but I bore witness to it in support of my fellow students whose families’ lives were on the line. I did what I could to rally support in the aftermath, but I don’t think it was enough. Our world is still so catastrophically unjust.

I speak out today not just to you. I speak out to all of us in this community. We need to do better.

In our midst are students who have fled war and persecution, who have left their homes and all they hold dear, perhaps because they knew the fight for justice put their life at risk – and they made a reasoned judgment to manage that risk by coming here to fight instead. Many of these students have managed to escape the horrors of our asylum system, by navigating our immigration laws in a variety of difficult ways. Many have not been trapped in Direct Provision centres. Some of us have been. Some of us have spent this pandemic, under lockdown, trapped in single rooms with four beds, fed food which falls well below basic nutritional standards, under constant threat that they might be deported and forcibly returned to lands which they fled for fear of their life. This is unconscionable. I have failed my fellow students by not speaking up for them as much as I could sooner. I don’t presume I can imagine how you feel about it.

Hence, I must ask: Why do we stand in silent complicity? Why does university management, which controls accommodation and land and vast financial resources, allow students it has accepted as members of this community – members to whom the university has a pedagogical duty of care – to live in conditions of such abject cruelty and dehumanisation?

Why?

I expect an answer.

I cannot expect that this polite email alone will convince you of the severity of the situation, so I stand ready to announce my question to the world and rally the members of this community to take all reasonable action to get an answer to that question.

How do you answer?

I expect an answer and I expect action to show that the content of that answer is true. I invite you to restore our collective faith in humanity. Great power is in your hands.

Sincere wishes for your personal safety and security,

Joshua Mathew Francis Gorman Climax

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