Disciplinary Investigation into a Report of Racism during Varsity 2018
The following information has been prepared in response to student concerns raised about the University's handling of a disciplinary investigation into a report of racism during Varsity 2018. The University understands students' concerns and wishes to apologise sincerely for the distress caused.
Timeline of events and processes
The incident occurred on Wednesday 21 March but unfortunately, due to the multi-partnered nature of Varsity, there was a delay in terms of the complaint reaching the correct University team. Initial reports suggested that the victim was a Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) student and did not include clear information on his identity. Early reports also suggested the occurrence of wider spread racial abuse which subsequently turned out not to be the case.
Whilst some of these circumstances were outside the University's control, we accept that the length of this delay was unacceptable and will be reviewing current procedures to ensure this does not happen again.
University regulations state that where a misconduct report appears to disclose the commission of a serious criminal offence (to include hate crime) no disciplinary action can be taken pending a police investigation or criminal court proceedings. If a police investigation ensues, the University can take no disciplinary action until the police investigation is concluded (so as not to risk compromising that investigation). It was therefore necessary, as a first step, to establish whether a police investigation would take place. To expedite this, the matter was referred to the University's campus police officers on 29th March for them to make enquiries with the victim on whether a police investigation should take place. When Sheffield Hallam University confirmed that the victim was not in fact one of their students, this made the process of locating the victim more problematic, and despite concerted attempts to do so by both campus police officers and South Yorkshire police more generally, the victim was not located until 5th April.
On Friday 6 April it was confirmed that the victim did not wish a police investigation to be taken forward. On Monday 9 April, a University investigating officer (IO) was immediately appointed to take forward a disciplinary investigation. During that week, the IO gathered information about the incident, a key element of which was a statement from the victim. The IO made contact with the victim on 10 April requesting a statement and this was provided on Friday 13 April.
From 16-27 April, an interview with the accused student was held, a decision on disciplinary outcome was reached and notification was provided to the accused. Under disciplinary regulations, the accused student can accept or appeal the decision of the investigation process. Their signed acceptance of the decision needs to be obtained before the final outcome can be confirmed. This was received on 26th April and the outcome confirmed on 27th April.
Lessons learned and resulting actions
The University is committed to putting the following in place:
a) Improved processes
We will be clarifying Varsity procedures on misconduct incidents in the future, to avoid delays and ensure clear channels and ownership of these between Varsity partners as well as third-party venues.
b) Reporting routes
In discussions about this incident, students have fed back that they find it unclear how to report incidents to the University. There are various sources of information on this on our webpages and events such as orientation, introductory week and crime prevention fortnight provide information on this to all students:
However, we will take student feedback on board and work with the Students' Union to improve communications and clarity in terms of reporting incidents.
c) Better communications with relevant groups
It is recognised that the above process took over a month and that during this time, the wider student body, and in particular the BAME student society, felt unaware of the ongoing action.
While the University clearly has to follow the process defined by regulations in respect of incidents such as this, ensuring that priority in any communication is given to the individuals directly involved and confidentiality maintained where necessary, we recognise that better communication with student representatives during this time would have been helpful. We will strive to ensure appropriate improvement in communications with the student body for similar future incidents.
d) Anti-Racism on campus
The University is committed to ensuring a safe, inclusive and respectful campus for all. Preventing racism is a key component of this. We are committed to working with student groups and the whole community to address issues raised.
We have committed to forming a Task Group with students and the Students' Union to take forward action to improve inclusivity on campus, to promote racial inclusion, to offer education to tackle ignorance where it exists and to celebrate the racial diversity of our campus. This will be taken forward under the authority of the University Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, who will also chair the new Task Group.
The University apologises once again for any upset caused to our students in the response to this incident and looks forward to a strong, productive collaborative programme of work in the months ahead to ensure a positive University environment where all are supported to achieve their potential in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.
Press statement from Friday 27 April:
A spokesperson for the University of Sheffield said:
"There is no place at Sheffield for racism in our university or students' union. Sheffield students take pride in being part of a community with friends and colleagues from over 140 different countries and all ethnic, religious and socio- economic backgrounds.
"Following the enactment of a formal University process for dealing with misconduct, the student has accepted responsibility for the impact of their actions and has apologised for their actions. The student will also be completing volunteering work within the community. The University and Students' Union will continue working to ensure our fundamental values of inclusion and respect are understood by all."