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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Dignity and Respect in College

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Dignity and Respect in College: Student Policy, Procedure & Guidance


This document should be read in conjunction with the College procedure and guidance on harassment and sexual misconduct, the Student Complaints procedure, and the College’s statement on sexual harassment and assault.


As a place of learning, teaching and research, the College provides an environment in which to exchange ideas, opinions and views: freedom of expression and acceptance of others are integral to this. The College is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment in which the rights and dignity of all members of its community are respected.

The College expects all members of its community to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration at all times. All members of the College community have the right to expect professional behaviour from others, and have a corresponding responsibility to behave professionally towards others.

The College and wider University recognise that to work and study effectively, students need a climate of equal opportunity in which they are respected and valued for their contribution, irrespective of their sex, gender identity (including reassignment), marital, parental or partnership status, race, ethnic or national origin, colour, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, or age. The College will not tolerate the harassment or bullying of any member of its community by another.

The College has a Student Complaints procedure and procedure for dealing with allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct. It also has a statement on relationships between staff and students. This document sets out further principles of College communal life, and aims to provide further guidance to students who may experience or witness inappropriate behaviour, and should be read in conjunction with those other procedures.

Attention is also drawn to the University’s own procedures which can be found on the OSCCA website.

 The College will not tolerate harassment, bullying or inappropriate behaviour and will use its full disciplinary powers to prevent or put a stop to any instances of it. This document outlines what this constitutes, and what students can do if they experience or witness it, or if they are accused of it. 


Inappropriate Behaviour

Behaviour is defined as inappropriate if:

  • it is unwanted by the recipient;
  • it is perceived by the recipient as violating their dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment; and
  • the behaviour could reasonably be considered as having that effect, having regard to all the circumstances, including the recipient's perception.

These definitions apply whether or not there was an intention to cause the effect. Inappropriate behaviour may include a number of specific behaviours - such as bullying, or harassment on account of sex (including gender reassignment), race, ethnic or national origin, colour, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, or age. Also, behaviour that may appear trivial as a single incident can constitute harassment or bullying when repeated.

Criminal Offences

Some types of harassment may be criminal offences. Students are strongly encouraged to inform the police about any forms of harassment that are criminal offences. Students should consider doing this themselves, but they may prefer to ask someone else to help them do so, or to inform the police on their behalf: the Senior Tutor or student's Tutor will usually be the appropriate individual in these circumstances. Internal College action may still take place whether or not the police decide to proceed. However, in some cases there may have to be a delay whilst police investigations are carried out.

If a student is physically injured in any way in an assault, or if they suffer rape or a sexual assault, the individual should seek medical help and advice immediately. Please refer to the College's documents on advice for students who are the victims of an assault.

The College's Commitment to dealing with reports of inappropriate behaviour

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour of any kind are be taken very seriously by the College, and could result in disciplinary action involving the Dean.  The Dean is able to place various sanctions on a student who is found to have acted inappropriately towards another member of College. The College will take action to ensure that a student raising a genuine concern related to harassment and bullying, or other inappropriate behaviour, is not victimised as a result. However, should such allegations are proven to be vexatious or malicious, a complainant may be the subject of disciplinary action.

The College aims to handle complaints in a way which is sympathetic, fair, and efficient, which encourages informal conciliation, facilitates early resolution, maintains individual privacy and confidentiality, and permits useful feedback. The full procedure is detailed elsewhere (LINK). Students are encouraged to speak to their Tutor at the earliest possible opportunity to receive support and guidance in this process.

Approaching inappropriate behaviour: guidance

If a student feels uncomfortable as a result of the behaviour of another student at this College or another College or a Department/Faculty, or of a member of College staff, the best resolution may well be by means of an open and honest discussion between the individuals involved, with support as necessary.

It is important to register the nature of the complaint as soon as possible or make someone else (preferably an individual with some authority) aware of the situation and to seek appropriate informal advice and support; often this can resolve the matter quickly and informally. If the individual feels unable to do this they are strongly encouraged to at least confide in someone they know, telling them the details of the situation at the time it takes place in order to ensure they have some immediate support.

The natural first point of contact for a student with a complaint is their College Tutor. Should a College Tutor not be willing or able to act, or should the complaint relate to them, the student may contact another College member, for example the Senior Tutor or another Tutor, a Director of Studies, or another member of the Fellowship, or member of College staff, such as the College Nurse, or Counsellor. The Executive Graduate Tutor could also be contacted by graduate students. Complaints relating to students at other Colleges would usually be referred to the Senior Tutor of this College; complaints relating to academic supervisors or members of a Department would usually be referred to an undergraduate's Director of Studies or a graduate student's Tutor. Students may also seek independent support and information from other appropriate members of University staff, or from the various student organisations - CUSU or the Graduate Union, the Students Unions’ Advice Service, University Counselling Service or members of their JCR or MCR Committees. General advice is also given to the students in this document. The student can expect to be given advice on how to proceed and on an appropriate course of action, advice about what would constitute an appropriate remedy, and an opportunity to consider whether there is indeed a complaint to be addressed. The student will then be in a position to decide whether, and if so how, to proceed further.

If you are being harassed or bullied, it may be useful to consider the following points:

  • Before deciding what to do about the situation, you may find it helpful to seek confidential help and advice. Many people find it difficult to think clearly about a situation which is causing them distress. Discussing the problem with someone else (see sources of help outlined earlier in this document)gives you the opportunity to analyse how you feel about it, what effect it is having on you, and what you believe is needed to solve the problem.
  • Discussion with any 'advisor' will normally be strictly confidential, and further action involving you will not be taken without informing you. You should be careful to protect your own confidentiality, and must also protect the confidentiality of all others involved in the situation. You should be aware there are limits to confidentiality. If you state that you do not want any further action to be taken, you may be asked to confirm this in writing. Action of some kind may, however, still need to be taken to protect others, although every effort will be made to maintain confidentiality.
  • You should always keep a record of the incidents which are causing you distress.
  • If you can avoid confrontation you have a better chance of solving the problem. If you are unhappy with somebody's behaviour towards you and feel able to tell him or her how you feel and what you would like to see changed, either face to face or by letter, this may resolve the situation and restore good working relationships.
  • If seeking resolution in this way you may want to ask for support - as set out in the section on support below - on a confidential basis, either to help you to work out what to say or to accompany you when you meet the person you are complaining about. Because of the  possibility of counter-accusation or recrimination, it is probably wise to alert a supporting person to the problem before you approach the person concerned, even if you feel able to take this action on your own.
  • If you want to communicate this message by letter, you will find a simple form of words suggested at the end of this section.
  • Even if you are able to resolve the situation yourself, you may wish to inform an 'advisor' in your own institution or that of the person complained against so that he or she is aware of any situation or incident which could cause future difficulties.
  • The formal complaints process is always open to you at any stage.  However, since this may be stressful or burdensome to all parties, it is important to consider the possibility of making an effort to achieve resolution informally before resorting to it. If you have tried a direct approach and it has not worked, or if you do not feel confident enough to try it, you may ask an appropriate 'advisor' to seek to resolve the problem on your behalf. You may also agree to co-operate with an independent conciliator seeking to mediate.
  • If neither of these approaches has or would have the desired effect or the matter is particularly serious, you can make a formal complaint to your Senior Tutor or Head of Institution who will then arrange for a formal investigation using the appropriate procedures.
  • If your complaint is not upheld you may still expect steps to be taken to help restore reasonable working relations between you and the person against whom you made the complaint.
  • If the behaviour which is causing you distress involves messages or offensive material sent to you by computer of which you cannot identify the source, you can speak to the College's IT office, or make an appointment via Reception of the University Information Service to see the appropriate person there for advice and assistance about the problem.

Finding the Right Words

The following suggests a format and some words which it may be helpful to use in a letter, an email, or in speech to someone whose behaviour you feel is inappropriate:

  1. Describe the behaviour very precisely, where and when it happened. If you are vague the person causing the problem may not understand what you are talking about.
  2. Tell the person how you feel about what has happened.
  3. Describe the effect it is having on you (you may find you are avoiding the person, or working less effectively so that your study performance is affected).
  4. Say precisely what you want to happen. Including the steps outlined in 1-3 above you  could write or say:

On the [date/day], at [time], you [describe the behaviour precisely]. Your behaviour made me feel [describe your feelings and reactions]. I wish you to stop [the behaviour]. You are harassing/bullying me and I have made a written record of the details. If this behaviour towards me is repeated I may make a formal complaint

This form of words (adapted from Eliminating Sexual Harassment, Herbert 1994, p.102)is one which should be recognised by everyone as a signal that a complainant is objecting to harassment or bullying and is seeking an informal resolution of the problem.

Being an Active Bystander

A culture of zero tolerance of bullying, harassment or other inappropriate behaviour requires other individuals in the College to call out that behaviour when they witness it.  This not only provides support to any individual experiencing inappropriate behaviour, but makes it clear to the individual behaving in that way that this is not acceptable. 

The University produces various resources on being an active bystander, which can be found on the website here.  There are a number of simple things that you can do to help.  It may be that you can take direct action yourself, for example not laughing at an inappropriate joke or comment, or talking to a friend who might have made the comment in a non-confrontational way, pointing out how it might make others feel.  If you do not feel comfortable challenging the behaviour yourself, you can speak to someone else (e.g. your Tutor or a member of the JCR committee). 

The University training on bystander intervention has some easy rules to remember.  Firstly, before you step in, remember ABC:

  • Assess for safety: If you see someone in trouble, ask yourself if you can help safely in any way. Remember, your personal safety is a priority – never put yourself at risk.
  • Be in a group: It’s safer to call out behaviour or intervene in a group. If this is not an option, report it to others who can act.
  • Care for the victim. Talk to the person who you think may need help. Ask them if they are OK.
    If you do intervene, remember the four Ds:
  • Direct action
    Call out negative behaviour, tell the person to stop or ask the victim if they are OK. Do this as a group if you can. Be polite. Don’t aggravate the situation - remain calm and state why something has offended you. Stick to exactly what has happened, don’t exaggerate.
  • Distract
    Interrupt, start a conversation with the perpetrator to allow their potential target to move away or have friends intervene. Or come up with an idea to get the victim out of the situation – tell them they need to take a call, or you need to speak to them; any excuse to get them away to safety. Alternatively, try distracting, or redirecting the situation.
  • Delegate
    If you are too embarrassed or shy to speak out, or you don’t feel safe to do so, get someone else to step in. Any decent venue has a zero tolerance policy on harassment, so the staff there will act.
  • Delay
    If the situation is too dangerous to challenge then and there (such as there is the threat of violence or you are outnumbered) just walk away. Wait for the situation to pass then ask the victim later if they are OK. Or report it when it’s safe to do so – it’s never too late to act.

Advice for Students who are Accused of Harassment or Bullying

  • If you are accused of harassment or bullying by another Murray Edwards student, the matter may be considered under the Murray Edwards College's internal harassment and sexual misconduct procedure, or alternatively under the University’s procedure (this will certainly be the case if you are accused by someone from another College).
  • You may seek confidential advice (see sources of support outlined earlier in this document). It is advisable to seek advice before taking any other steps. Any discussion will be confidential but you should be aware of the limits to confidentiality.
  • Listen carefully and calmly to what is being said. If you find that you have unintentionally caused offence, or you believe that your words or actions have been misinterpreted or misjudged then you will need to keep calm in order to try to reach an understanding with the person accusing you.
  • If you believe the accusation to be unfounded say so, but arrange to seek advice and support as soon as possible whether the situation is resolved informally or formally.
  • You may wish to be accompanied at any interview or other stage in the procedure by a member of College e.g. a College Tutor, Director of Studies, or another student.
  • Be prepared to participate in conciliation or mediation if an attempt is made to resolve the matter informally.
  • If a complaint made against you is not upheld you may expect steps to be taken to help restore reasonable relations between yourself and the person who made the complaint.
  • Be honest. If you come to realise that you have harassed or bullied another person be ready to change the behaviour causing offence. You may wish to seek support in changing your behaviour in future: the University Counselling Service or another of the sources listed in this section may be able to help you.
  • If a complaint made against you is upheld and where there is evidence of wilful misconduct or seriously irresponsible behaviour, this may lead to disciplinary procedures against you.
  • If you are not satisfied with the outcome of an investigation of a complaint made against you, you may complain in accordance with the relevant procedure.