Bullying and Harassment Permitted by Bristol University
Bullying and Harassment Permitted by Bristol University
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Latest: July 9, 2020
Claim filed on 18 June 2020!
Who am I?
My name is Raquel Rosario Sánchez. I have been bullied and harassed by students at Bristol University for my feminist principles for over two years. The University has failed to protect me. 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, on 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.
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. The first incident took place in January 2018. The last one (so far) in March 2020. 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 two 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 I could identify as being students at the University. 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. Trans activists have called for my deportation. 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.
I read the University’s policies, which clearly stated that what was happening to me was unacceptable, and filed a student complaint against the students targeting me. 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 prolonged 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.
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. 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 one 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 constant 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. 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.
I am deeply grateful to the Dominican Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology which has decided to fund me for another year, despite the considerable impact the bullying and this institutional process have had on my academic performance. I am equally grateful to the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at the University of Bristol which has shown me nothing but kindness and solidarity throughout this ordeal. The Head of the Centre for Gender and Violence Research has 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, as recently as March 2020. 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 illegal.
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 now preparing litigation against the University of Bristol for its failure to properly protect me from the bullying and harassment I have suffered. The legal breaches I am alleging are 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), 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 would likely 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.
With this aim, I have instructed Peter Daly at Slater and Gordon to represent me. The immediate first step is to prepare a detailed Letter Before Claim and then, once we are in receipt of the University’s response to that letter, draft the claim itself.
I am told that cases such as this can cost in excess of £50,000. In order to get the case off the ground, I am initially seeking to raise £10,000, which will cover the initial costs I have incurred, the Letter Before Claim, the lodging of the claim itself and the initial stages of the litigation. Following that, I will need to pay for the case itself, and also raise money 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 is strong, there is a possibility that I might lose. I am litigating against a huge organisation with near enough limitless resources.
Your support is crucial!
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. If you can contribute, I’d appreciate whatever you can donate to help fund my case. 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 and they believe that they’ll face no consequences. Therefore, this an academic issue. I would appreciate the support of everyone concerned about the intimidatory climate fomented by aggressive student activists, and the academic institutions which enable them.
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Raquel Rosario Sánchez
July 9, 2020
Claim filed on 18 June 2020!
No student ever dreams of being in a position of having to sue their own academic institution. I imagine this is particularly true for international students, who fly across the world in the hopes of a more enriching and innovative academic experience than we could find back home. After two years of being compliant with an internal process that was thoughtless towards me, and while witnessing the neglect with which the University of Bristol was violating my rights, sadly I have been left with no choice but to take legal action.
I am grateful to every single one of you who has helped me get closer and closer to my stretch target, so that I can fund my case. I am equally grateful to everyone who has sent me messages of kindness, support and solidarity from around the world. In the aftermath of such a profoundly isolating experience, it is heartening to know that most people are keen to uphold both women's rights and academic freedom. And are appalled by the democratic decay which is being fomented inside the most elite academic institutions in the United Kingdom.
Ps. In light of the unnaceptable manner that the Crowdjustice team has treated Allison Bailey, a fierce defender of women's rights who I hold in such high regard, I ask if you could please not tip Crowdjustice when making further donations. Women are being forced to endure discriminatory treatment due to a hostile environment, and a lack of choices. Like you, I await clarification on this matter. In the meantime, I am considering my options.
Raquel Rosario Sánchez
May 21, 2020
We reached our initial target in less than a 24 hours!
I am overwhelmed with gratitude seeing the responses to my Crowdjustice appeal. We set an initial target of £10,000 and reached it in less than a day.
This has been an organic, grassroots effort, lead by people sharing this fundraising page mainly on social media and among their private networks of colleagues, friends and family. The average donation has been £25. We have had no media coverage yet, meaning that the driving force behind this campaign has been the energy and determination of people eager to uphold both women's rights and academic freedom.
As you can see from this detailed account, this situation has taken a long time. I have found this process both painful and dehumanising. To go through this as an international student with no network in this country, all because of my feminist conviction, has been profoundly isolating. I draw strength from the kindness and solidarity of all the people who have donated, so far. And most importantly, from the support of the people who have sent messages of encouragement.
Thank you to everyone for helping me reach my target in only one day – an incredible response and I am very grateful. My lawyers have confirmed today that work is now underway on the initial steps of the case, and I will give more updates as and when I am able to do so.
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