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Everything UoR students need to know about staying safe and protecting their rights on campus. 


Moving to university can be a daunting- as well as an exciting- experience. There’s the moving away from home, meeting hundreds of new people, and coming to terms with the independence that accompanies being a student.


And as much as students cringe to admit it, sex and safety are often two of the biggest concerns they have in terms of what to expect. 


Will there be pressure to have sex when I get to uni? Is it normal not to go back with a girl/guy you’ve kissed on a night out? Is it ok to say NO? 


Although it is clear that the Reading University Students’ Union is committed to ensuring students have fun during their time at university, the welfare and safety of their members is also at the top of their agenda. 


When joining UoR you automatically become a member of RUSU. This means you have access to all facilities (representation, advice services, sports clubs, societies, cafes, bars, shops, cash point, nightclub) and events (Freshers’ Fayres, Union Nights, Quiz Nights, Karaoke, Awards Balls, Employability Events, Student Voice) throughout your time as a student.


As a member of RUSU you can access free, confidential and independent advice services for various issues you may be experiencing while you are a student at Reading.


These include but are not limited to academic, financial, housing, and welfare advice. 


RUSU Advice Service can support you with academic matters such as submitting Extended Circumstance Forms, as well as money matters including student funding, debt counselling, financial hardship and applying for welfare benefits. 


They also advise on living in rented accommodation and halls, and can support students with housing contracts, dealing with disrepair, deposit disputes, eviction, rent arrears, landlords and much more.  


The RUSU Advice Service is also a great first point of contact for support with other welfare and social issues, such as dealing with isolation, homesickness, bullying or harassment; concerns around personal or home safety and dealing with forms of hate crime.  They also have strong links with other services that can provide free and confidential support to students, such as our local drug and alcohol support service and environmental health.


The Advice Service operates a free drop-in service which you do not require an appointment for. You can access this service regardless of whether you are an undergraduate, postgraduate, researcher, part-time, full-time or international member of the university. 


RUSU also run several campaigns throughout the year that are designed to promote awareness of different topics and encourage conversation amongst students, with many of these campaigns focusing on student welfare and safety both on and around campus. 


Commenting on the university’s current welfare provisions, third year student Sabita Burke said: “It’s so important to let students know that RUSU has a zero tolerance policy towards any form of sexual harassment, regardless of gender identity. 


“Unacceptable incidents of groping and unwelcome harassment happen all too often on the average night out, and regardless of your gender it needs to be made clear to the entire student body that this is not okay. 


She added: “I’m glad that there are campaigns at RUSU such as #NeverOkay which are trying to create a safe space to tackle issues like these.”


#NeverOK– RUSU’s zero tolerance campaign towards bullying, harassment or discrimination -launched in collaboration with the university during November last year. 


The campaign was designed to encourage students to report any inappropriate behaviour that they witness or are affected by.


Such behaviour includes abuse, anti-social behaviour, hate crime, racism, sexual harassment, and physical violence which the RUSU’s Zero Tolerance Policy outlines. 


Commenting on the project, 2019-20 Welfare Officer Gemma King said: “Students can report incidents by emailing neverok@reading.ac.uk after which they will be contacted by a member of the welfare team who will support and guide them to further support. 


“If you are feeling anxious or vulnerable when walking across campus on your own there is also a chaperone service available. Call 0118 378 7799 and security can watch you on CCTV to ensure you are safe on your journey.”


The Ask for Angela campaign also commenced this year as a way for students to escape uncomfortable situations with the help of university bar staff. 


Gemma said: “Ask for Angela provides a lifeline for anyone who may feel in danger or in a difficult situation on union nights.


“If you Ask for Angela at the bar the staff will know you need help and will get you out of the situation as safely and discreetly as possible.”


The initiative was pioneered in 2016 by Lincolnshire County Council as part of a #NoMore sexual violence and abuse awareness campaign. It has since been adopted by numerous universities and students’ unions across the country as a way of keeping students safe and void of threatening scenarios. 


Supportive of the initiative, current student Lois Plummer said: “During nights out on campus, the Ask for Angela campaign has made me and my friends feel reassured that help is available readily and instantly. 


She added: “Looking out for your friends is a must, but knowing there are guidelines set in place makes us feel slightly safer in these situations.”


Another of RUSU’s highly effective welfare campaigns was I ♥ Consent which ran during the latter half of this year . The project highlighted the importance of consent before sex and in doing so aimed to reduce the stigma around requesting it.


Gemma said: “RUSU encouraged students to talk about consent, the definition of consent and discussed situations where the topic of consent may come up. 


“Welfare training will be given to all welfare committee members this year where the topic of consent is discussed along with other welfare issues like mental health. 


“Those who aren’t welfare committee members are also invited to attend providing they email me at welfareofficer@rusu.co.uk in advance.”


Overall it is important to remember that consent is a very important part of sex and that not receiving it can be the defining factor between consented sex and sexual assault. 


Equally, for anyone affected by sexual assault there is an abundance of support available including Trust House Reading which provides free and confidential guidance including one-to-one counselling and email and digital helplines.


CEO of the Trust, Namita Prakash said: “Trust House Reading supports anyone affected by rape and sexual abuse through a range of person centred specialist services like counselling, advice and advocacy, helpline, support groups etc to meet the need of the individuals. 


“Referral is very simple and straightforward. Just call our helpline on 01189584033 to discuss what support you would need. We support victims, survivors, their family and friends.“


No matter how big or small your problem is, there will always be support available for you during your time at university.


This year RUSU will continue to enforce stronger safety regulations and welfare projects to ensure students feel safe on campus and confident to speak up if something occurs.


Gemma King said: “Another scheme we are hoping to get up and running this year is the Pals for Gals which will give women an opportunity to meet up and walk home with each other after union nights. 


“I also really want to work on safety after union nights by creating a safe space outside of union with water and food available where students can go if they feel vulnerable or if they want to speak to security.”


Responding to the Students’ Union’s strengthening safety measures, one student said: “It’s nice to see that these issues are being addressed rather than being swept under the carpet. It means that people are more confident in coming forward because they know they will be heard.”


Another added: “I think that at a university where people of all ages and backgrounds study, it is extremely important for their safety to be acknowledged. 


“No one wants to feel unsafe or uncomfortable on campus, and I think that the increasing campaigns and services providing awareness are doing an excellent job- it can hopefully only keep getting better!”


For more information about the university’s welfare services visit student.reading.ac.uk/essentials/_support-and-wellbeing or go to www.rusu.co.uk/advice/welfare for details of organisations that provide advice and support on a number of issues affecting students. 


Please remember, there is always someone who can listen.


About Taz Usher

Print Editor of The Spark Newspaper.

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