Read part one here.
Laura Curran spoke to Luke Alsford about the issues in Durham surrounding consent culture and free speech and the importance of the SU in tackling them.
Luke Alsford: One thing you are talking about a lot on social media is your work on consent workshops. I know that that was a big part of your campaign to be elected to the role. Why is the expansion of consent workshops so important to you as Welfare and Liberation Officer?
Laura Curran: Consent culture is a problem in any part of the UK and any part of the world. Within Durham as well, there are instances where people can recall times where consent has not been present and there have been certain issues relating to sexual misconduct and violence. The University does do really good work on prevention. There are some amazing staff within the University, such as Clarissa Humphreys [Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Manager], who is amazing and has done a lot of work with the consent workshops. When we have these really good initiatives within the University and within our colleges, it’s important that they translate into the student experience as much as possible, which is why I want to be able to get all the colleges involved in these consent workshops. From personal experience, I was one of the first students within the university to experience an in-college led consent workshop in Collingwood in 2017. I ended up being a consent workshop leader myself in my third year and in my masters. It is so important to have passionate students who care about this issue and who are present in multiple areas of student experience, whether in welfare, leadership positions, sports or societies, who are saying, “This is an important issue, we need to work on it together,” that sends a strong message to our community at large. That is one of the reasons why I want these workshops to be across all colleges. It is going to be more of a my priority work in second term. Implementing active bystander training, as well, is really important. I would argue it can be more important in the role that is plays. When you look at sexual misconduct and violence, the perpetrators know what consent is but they ignore it. That’s when you need people who are others who are active bystanders and can intervene. I do want to roll out the training to student leaders, bar staff, so more people are equipped with the skills to deal with these situations. When you look at the culture in Durham, students do not necessarily always recognize what the bad behavior is, so it is important to equip students to recognize it and teach them how they can intervene.
LA: Am I really interested in your thoughts on the culture in Durham surrounding these issues. In your campaign to be elected, you talked about students feeling unsafe on nights out – is that also part of the culture at Durham or more of a broader issue?
LC: It is an issue that students continue to face. A particular problem this term has been bouncers in nightclubs. There have been multiple reports of individuals being targeted by bouncers, and being verbally and physically violent, and disproportionately so. It is not fair on students if those who are meant to be making this space safer are actually facilitating this violence and it is not on. Spiking became a really prevalent issue throughout first term in 2021, where we saw the issue of spiking by injection, with needles. That was a really frightening concept for students at that time. There had always been conversations to do with covering drinks and what to do when someone is spiked, but when spiking by needles became more prevalent, that was scary and fueled misinformation about HIV and AIDS, which was again really scary, as there is still a fair amount of stigma attached to it. It does feel like we are in a better position now as spiking cases have gone down, but we must not be complacent about it. The prevention side to it is ongoing. The remainder of the issues are by no means dealt. It is all a long process which both precedes myself and will probably outlast my time in the role.
LA: You recently ran a ‘Speak Free’ event to coincide with Rod Liddle coming back to speak in Durham. Why was it important for you to run that and at exactly the same time that Liddle was speaking?
LC: During my time in Durham, as a student and as a sabbatical officer, I’ve always viewed the Durham Union society as a place where students get dressed up in black tie and try to have these controversial debates for the sake of it. It doesn’t make sense to me for them to invite Rod Liddle of all people to come back. I don’t believe that freedom of speech, debate or discussion, should be defined by taking advantage of students who have been affected by the Rod Liddle incident that happened last year. Being a student at that time and being an LGBTQ+ rep at my college at that time, I saw the hurt and saw how much it impacted LGBTQ+ students and students of color and working-class students and women, and students who were engaging in sex work as well. This one man came into this formal and just spouted all this stuff that was hurtful and uncalled-for. It is hard to put into words how it felt to hear that he was coming back, because students at large came together during student protests to say, “We disagree with what happened here and this is not what we want Durham to be.” With the ‘Speak Free’ event, we wanted to show Durham and everyone what we want Durham to be and what Durham is. So, we wanted to have this space where students, on their own terms, could come and talk about the issues that they care about. They can have control over debate and make it theirs and shape the culture. Students could talk about housing, drug policy, teaching and assessment post-Covid, but could also discuss other issues they wanted to. Just having this space where people can come to talk about issues and have a healthy debate without a feeling that it is targeting anyone. That’s a really important thing. We do not really see a whole lot of that in Durham. I don’t want freedom of speech and debate to be controlled by theatrics within the Durham Union society. I want it to be controlled by the students who are passionate and then to talk about what they care about.
LA: We have talked about a lot of difficult issues at Durham, but as you have mentioned these have been countered by moments where student have really come together, such as with the Rod Liddle protests or demonstrations against the housing crisis. Does that leave you optimistic for Durham tackling the issues ahead?
LC: I am really optimistic about Durham students. They are, as a whole, intelligent people who care about issues both within Durham and at-large. We have so many people who are using this intelligence and their passion to do good and want to do good and raise their voices and make change, which is amazing! I would like to see the University keep prioritizing and pushing forward the issues that students care about, because at the end of the day, the university exists for students and wouldn’t exist if students weren’t there. I do really want the University to listen and actually act on students interests a whole lot more. The elections for the officer team are going to be in February time, so they’ll be information on the Students’ Union social media for people who want to take over from me next year. So, hopefully lots of intelligent, passionate people want to run for my role!
Featured Image: Laura Curran