Bullying and Harassment Enabled by Bristol University

by Raquel Rosario Sánchez

Bullying and Harassment Enabled by Bristol University

by Raquel Rosario Sánchez
Raquel Rosario Sánchez
Case Owner
I've been bullied & harassed by students at the University of Bristol for my feminist principles for three years. My case seeks to ensure what is happening to me does not happen to other students.
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Raquel Rosario Sánchez
Case Owner
I've been bullied & harassed by students at the University of Bristol for my feminist principles for three years. My case seeks to ensure what is happening to me does not happen to other students.
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Latest: March 13, 2021

Case Management Conference in April

Dear everyone,

Hope you are well and staying safe during these intense times.

First: Last week, one of my lawyers moved to a new law firm; from Slater and Gordon to Doyle Clayton. CrowdJustice requires…

Read more

Who am I?

My name is Raquel Rosario Sánchez. I have been bullied and harassed by students at the University of Bristol for my feminist principles for over three years. The University has not only failed to protect me by upholding their own policies but instead, has decided to blame and gaslight me while enabling its overwhelmingly white, British and Russell-Group-educated bullies. 

My case is about how an elite university treats its students, particularly international students, when nobody is watching. My case seeks to ensure what is happening to me does not happen to other students. 

I am a feminist writer, campaigner and researcher from the Dominican Republic. I was accepted on a PhD course at the University of Bristol, starting in January 2018. My academic specialism is in ending violence against girls and women. My PhD work focuses on online communities for men who pay for sex. 

By the time I arrived in the UK, in November 2017, I was already a recognised feminist writer who published regularly both in English and in Spanish. It was on that basis that feminist political campaign Woman's Place UK asked me to chair its upcoming meeting in Bristol, scheduled for 8 February 2018. I invite you to please take a look at some of my writing, research and campaigning on women and girls rights.


My Story

Woman’s Place UK exists to protect women’s sex-based rights, as they are enshrined in the Equality Act 2010, and is falsely described as an anti-trans organisation. Because I was associated with it, as soon as the event was announced, a number of trans activist students at the University of Bristol started bullying, harassing and targeting me at various events, both inside and outside university campus. 

Gender Studies is my academic field but they wanted to make it clear that any critical voices, even those of experts like me, was forbidden and nobody was allowed to speak about it. The first incident took place in January 2018. The last one (so far) in February 2021. I’ve done everything I can to try to get the University of Bristol to stop it – but they’ve refused to take any steps to help me, even failing to properly follow their own procedures.

When I came from the Dominican Republic, on a scholarship, to be at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, my life felt like a dream come true. Over the next three years, this dream became a nightmare. I have been subject to intense hate, vitriol and bigotry. This took the form of mainly online abuse by a range of people, some of whose names and identities were obscured, others of whom the University was able to identify as being their students.

Among them, people have incited their social media followers to throw eggs and milkshakes at me. I’ve read that I should be punched and turfed out of England. I’ve been called terf, scum, trash, nasty, bigot, heinous and sickening, during periodic campaigns of vilification targeting every feminist event I’ve participated in.

But when I raised this with the University of Bristol, their immediate response was to question me. In hindsight, it is telling that when the bullying against me started, instead of offering support or asking me if I was alright, the first person to contact me from the University was someone from their press office. They were keen on managing the situation for PR purposes, not as a student safety issue.

I read the University’s policies, which clearly stated that what was happening to me was unacceptable, and filed a student complaint against the targeting I was experiencing weeks after starting my programme. In April 2018, the University of Bristol opened disciplinary procedures against one student, who identifies as trans. The charges were (among others) "bullying, harassment and unacceptable behaviour." The student got legal representation, and the process dragged on for about a year and a half. Meanwhile, they escalated their behaviour, mounting even more campaigns targeting me at various feminists events, inside and outside the University of Bristol. 

Every university has policies against bullying and harassment, but the University of Bristol demonstrated that as long as these sustained campaigns of vilification are done by trans activist students, they are willing to ditch those policies and ignore the law.

The University started three separate Disciplinary Hearings only to close them immediately. They argued there were security concerns posed by the threat of their own balaclava-clad students who would protest each hearing. 

The University of Bristol required assistance both from campus security and also from the local police who attended these hearings to protect the staff members tasked with investigating the student bullies.

When I was due to give evidence on 15 June 2018, trans activists students distributed a pamphlet titled 'Why We Fight The TERF War' in which students were encouraged to yell 'SCUM SCUM SCUM' and 'You’re shit and you know you are'. The University never managed to question the trans student they were allegedly investigating. 

They did allow the trans student’s barrister to cross-examine me in front of my bully. The University lawyer and the Disciplinary Committee also questioned me. I was asked about my feminist ideas and made to ‘explain myself’ for having the temerity to chair a meeting on women's rights. To this day, I am the only student who has had to answer any questions. 

  • I filed my student complaint on 1 February 2018.

  • The University of Bristol closed down the disciplinary procedures on 27 June 2019 “for reasons unrelated to the merits of the case”, providing no further explanation.

  • The University dismissed my student complaint on 19 December 2019. 

Throughout, the University insisted that it was paramount that I, along with my supervisors at the Centre for Gender and Violence Research, maintained confidentiality when faced with relentless bullying. Almost two years later, they turned around and denied that any bullying took place. 

When they dismissed my student complaint in December 2019, the University argued that the purpose of confidentiality was to protect the bully. That meant that all along, I had to watch myself be publicly bullied and harassed by throngs of privileged, British students who were making a sport out of bullying an immigrant who had just arrived in the UK.

It was the University of Bristol, an academic institution that has a duty of care to me, that coerced me against standing up for myself and prevented me from fighting back. In effect, trans activist students bullied and harassed me but it was the university's internal procedures that stifled my free speech. The impact of this both on my health and my academic performance was severe. 

In the Autumn of 2019, I spoke about what had been happening to me for the first time and my story was featured both in The Sunday Times and the BBC’s Radio 4 Today Programme. At that point, the University of Bristol pressured me to suspend my studies on the basis that I was not making sufficient academic progress. 

This is a picture shared on the University of Bristol's social media platforms of the then Pro Vice Chancellor for International Students and the Pro Vice Chancellor for Student Experience two weeks after the University decided to terminate disciplinary procedures for "bullying, harassment and unnaceptable behaviour" by their white, British and Russell-Group educated trans activists student bullies against me, citing "reasons unrelated to the merits of the case."

You can watch the behaviour of the trans activist students who have bullied and harassed me at the University of Bristol, and that I reported throughout, in this BBC documentary and on this Mumsnet thread

You can find an updated list of the coverage my legal case has received, in the media, websites and in online forums here.

I am deeply grateful to the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol which has shown me nothing but kindness, support and solidarity throughout this ordeal. The Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the time this was taking place issued a public statement detailing the facts of this internal matter and condemning the University of Bristol’s handling of the process. You can read the public statement here.

I believe that everyone should be treated with respect and dignity when advocating for their political beliefs, regardless of disagreements. This democratic generosity was not extended to me, neither by the multiple students who have bullied, harassed and targeted me over the past two years, nor by the University of Bristol.

Unsurprisingly, trans activist students continue to target me, attempting to cancel feminist meetings I organise inside the University of Bristol and seeking to sanction me for standing for women's existing legal rights, as recently as February 2021. This is not a healthy or humane learning environment for any student. The University’s actions are not only in contravention of their own institutional policies, but are also unlawful.


The Case

No student ever dreams of suing their university. Taking legal action against your academic institution is a nightmare scenario, both time consuming and psychologically draining. Realising I would have to sue the University of Bristol was deeply painful for me. I went there filled with hope and excitement. 

When you are being targeted by a mob of angry students who refuse to respect other students right's to free speech and freedom of assembly, you desperately want your institution to help you and their policies to protect you. But sadly, too many universities prefer to turn a blind eye to attacks on students.

Nobody should ever be forced to live under threats of violence, like I was at the University of Bristol. But the fact that this climate of abuse and intolerance is taking place within academic institutions, where thoughtful critique and persuasion should be the order of the day, must ring alarm bells for everyone concerned about democracy and academic freedom.

I believe that the University’s failure to protect me is because they have a policy of not properly applying its disciplinary procedures against students who identify as trans rights activists. I am currently preparing litigation against the University of Bristol for its failure to protect me from the bullying and harassment I have suffered. 

The legal breaches I am alleging are negligence, indirect sex discrimination (because most people who suffer this intimidation from trans activists are women, and therefore it is women who primarily suffer because of the University’s policy), and unlawful victimisation under the Equality Act 2010, among others.

Bullying and harassment, particularly over such a sustained period of time, are dreadful experiences to go through and are highly detrimental to any academic environment where learning should thrive. 

I feel aghast by the eventuality that the University of Bristol will allow my experience to repeat itself, given that they do not perceive any wrongdoing on their part. Prospective female students, as well as international students, have the right to be aware of the two-tier system which operates within the University of Bristol. What is happening to me should not happen to any other student again. 

My case argues that the University of Bristol institutional process had the purpose or effect of violating my dignity, and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for me.

With this aim, I have instructed a team of lawyers to represent me, including Peter Daly from Doyle Clayton. We have prepared and presented a detailed Letter Before Claim and now, after receiving the University’s response to that letter, we are drafting the claim itself and preparing for litigation.

I was told beforehand that cases such as this can cost in excess of £50,000. Indeed, after engaging with the University on this matter, my lawyers have informed me that this legal challenge will cost £100,000, covering the 5 to 7 days of litigation in court.

In order to get the case off the ground, my previous Crowdjustice page (I had to create a new one because my solicitor changed law firms) sought to raise £10,000, to cover the initial costs I had incurred at that point, the Letter Before Claim, the lodging of the claim itself and the initial stages of the litigation. We reached that initial target within 10 hours.

Following our Case Management Conference, I must raise enough money to pay for the case itself, and to ensure that I can pay the University’s costs in case I am not successful. There is no such thing as a guaranteed success in litigation, and although I have been told that my case against the University of Bristol is strong, there is a possibility that I might lose. I am litigating against a massive organisation with near enough limitless resources. 


Your support is vital!

We were ready to launch this case just before the COVID-19 health crisis hit. I understand that these are challenging circumstances for all of us. Please feel free to donate to efforts to alleviate the effects of the crisis, which are undoubtedly more urgent. That being said, if you can contribute, I’d appreciate whatever you can donate to help fund my case. If you can't donate, I would ask you to please share this page among your network of colleagues, friends and family. 

My case is about how an elite university treats its students when nobody is watching. It is also about how academic institutions behave when they believe themselves to be above the law. Therefore, this an issue of academic freedom. I would appreciate the support of everyone concerned about the intimidatory climate fomented by aggressive student activists, and the academic institutions which enable them.


NOTES

As I mentioned in my first update, this page is a continuation of my crowdfunding effort in my legal action against the University of Bristol. My solicitor changed law firms and Crowdjustice rules require that I create a separate page to direct the funds from donors to the new law firm. You can still view my previous page (now closed) here

This graphic is courtesy of British conceptual artist Rachel Ara, who herself has experienced intolerance and no-platforming by an academic institution in the UK. Please read more about her work here.

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Update 1

Raquel Rosario Sánchez

March 13, 2021

Case Management Conference in April

Dear everyone,

Hope you are well and staying safe during these intense times.

First: Last week, one of my lawyers moved to a new law firm; from Slater and Gordon to Doyle Clayton. CrowdJustice requires that you set up a new page to list the new law firm and close the previous page in order to redirect the funding to the correct place. I have now closed my original page.

Second: The legal case against the University of Bristol is moving forward. Our Case Management Conference is scheduled for 15 April 2021. This is a procedural hearing to decide the trial dates, specify disclosure and confirm the witnesses who will testify for each party. The University says they will have 5 witnesses testifying against me, while I will have 1 other person to stand with me defending my case. The University says they anticipate the trial will take 7 days, while we argue it might take 5 days. A CMC is where these matters are determined. The court has stated they want my case to be decided this year of 2021.

Thirdly: I want to explain to you why I made the decision to remain at the Crowdjustice platform after their mistreatment of Allison Bailey. As a campaigner and as a feminist, Allison Bailey is a woman that I deeply respect and admire. I have wanted to leave Crowdjustice ever since the moment they made the decision to mistreat her by, unceremoniously and without warning, erasing her words and experiences from the platform.

I had heard about the possibility of creating an alternative platform for all the feminists who have been targeted by institutions as a result of our defense of existing sex-based rights, and if that came about, I've been hoping to join that. However, that has not materialized yet, probably because it would be massively time consuming, and all of us have jobs and/or family care responsibilities that we must prioritize, aside from our legal cases. Allison obviously found a third way, which was to raise funds on her own website. I've thought about this a lot and I wish that I could do the same thing but I can't, because of my context as an immigrant.

We don't have a culture of crowdfunding legal efforts in the Dominican Republic. Aside from that, the amount of money I am asking from the public is exorbitant to any reasonable Dominican person, and I am already so worried about how that might be perceived. What I get from Crowdjustice is that they provide an independent platform, devoted exclusively to help fund legal cases, where the money goes directly from donor to law firm. And that dynamic is clear to all external people. I would obviously never do anything with the money other than pay my excellent team of lawyers but I am conscious of how the optics of me raising obscene amounts of money on my own website might look from the perspective of people who are not familiar with these dynamics.

Crowdjustice has been nothing but helpful and encouraging to me personally, but I truly hate that staying on this platform makes me complicit in the way they treated Allison, which I think was unacceptable. The first person I informed of the position I found myself in was Allison herself. She was, characteristically, very kind and understanding. I hope you all can be equally understanding of this decison. I have also emailed Crowdjustice's CEO Julia Salasky to inform her of my thoughts on this matter.

As always, thank you all very much for your interest in my case and our collective fight for academic freedom. By far, the average donation to this legal challenge has been £10-£25, so I am delighted that this is truly a grassroots effort. Every single pound is helpful and even if you can't donate, your messages of support and solidarity are just as valuable and appreciated. THANK YOU!

I will inform you of new developments after our April 15th Case Management Conference.

Best,

Raquel

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