Eight months ago, the Instagram account @standrewssurvivors was founded. It subsequently shared anonymously the experiences of both students and alumni of the University with sexual misconduct. As a result, promises of action from various groups on campus were made. The University of St Andrews and student groups, as well as societies and fraternities whose members were implicated, all made public statements detailing such promises. Their messages at the time were clear: they were committed to addressing sexual and gender-based violence and creating a safer and more supportive St Andrews. Today, having spoken to both the administrators of the account themselves, as well as the aforementioned groups, The Saint presents the findings of its investigation into whether promises were kept, and what actions – if any – have been carried out since.
Since its founding on 2 July 2020, the St Andrews Survivors account has posted 265 anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct (at time of writing) and has garnered over 6,000 followers. Whilst the vast majority of submitted posts concern alleged incidents occurring within the town, it must be noted that some alleged incidents did not take place in St Andrews nor implicate students at the University. The St Andrews Survivors account’s administrators state that the page creates “a space where survivors can feel safe and supported, whether that be by granting them an opportunity to share their own experiences in an anonymous way, or demonstrating that they are not alone by compiling all of these stories from their peers in one place.”
The allegations include rape, stealthing, witnessing rape, coercion, sexual assault, physical assault, racism, emotional abuse, attempted assault, assault, drugging, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
According to the administrators of St Andrews Survivors – whose anonymous team has expanded from one original founder to multiple members – the large volume of submissions was unexpected, yet the prevalence of sexual misconduct on campus was, unfortunately, unsurprising:
Speaking to The Saint, they said, “All of us on the admin team had a sense of the issue in St Andrews, whether from our own experiences or from others. And, having an understanding of the advantages, disadvantages, and emotional turmoil that comes with the decision to speak up about these abuses, we were not shocked to discover hundreds of St Andrews students, alumni, residents, and staff who had been keeping their stories to themselves for weeks, months, years, or even decades.”
They continued, “The deeply personal and vivid stories shared on the account seem to touch many people with events, locations and situations all too familiar to fellow ‘St Andreans’. These stories shock people into being more cognizant of how their own behaviours or the actions of those around them, which they may never have questioned before, may potentially be harmful to others.”
Allegations of sexual misconduct on the page include 12 posts which implicate the St Andrew’s Chapter of the student fraternity, AEPi (Alpha Epsilon Pi), as well as two which implicate members of the Kate Kennedy Club.
A week after the Instagram account was founded, The Telegraph reported that AEPi had “immediately suspended members who acknowledged any role in the alleged incidents.”
Committing themselves to public accountability, AEPi St Andrews stated on their public Facebook page that they would regularly keep the community posted on updates regarding their response to the allegations, which included an internal investigation and a commitment to put in place mandatory consent training for all of its members.
However, the Chapter’s social media has since been made private due to Chapter members being harassed, intimidated, and threatened, according to Jonathan Pierce, former International President of AEPi and the fraternity’s spokesman. As such, no updates on their commitment to mandatory consent training or the investigation into the incidents have been made publicly.
Speaking to The Saint, Mr Pierce clarified that members had participated in consent training in Semester 1 of the 2020-2021 academic year and that this will now be mandatory for all members, every year. Alongside this, he added that a new policy has been introduced by AEPi alumni: the development of a UK-Specific Safeguarding Policy and the appointment of a Safeguarding Officer.
When asked what AEPi’s internal investigation procedure consisted of, Mr Pierce stated that the procedure for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct involves suspending a fraternity Brother “pending the outcome of an investigation by proper authorities.” If the allegation is proven true, the Brother will enter an expulsion process.
According to Mr Pierce, when asked about The Telegraph’s report that members had been suspended, he stated that the Chapter has cooperated with all investigations:
“To my knowledge, no one has been named in any of the anonymous allegations which were made. The Chapter worked with local authorities to aid in their investigations but none of those investigations resulted in any specific allegations of any individuals, to our knowledge. Hence, no one has been put into the expulsion process because neither the Chapter leadership nor the local police know who the allegations were about.”
The St Andrews Survivors account received international media coverage. However, the administrators noted that “every university has a sexual assault problem” and that the attention surrounding St Andrews was due to the fact that it was one of the first universities in the UK to have the “magnitude of the problem” exposed.
In response to the question of how they felt about the media coverage the account had received, the administrators said, “We never set out to badmouth the University, but we do not object to the media reports that came out. When a university is failing in its responsibility to protect its students, that needs to be called out so that they can do better. Students have clearly been suffering from the sexual violence in St Andrews for decades, and the problem remains largely unsolved, so it is clear that public pressure was necessary to get the ball rolling on progress.”
The administrators told The Saint that whilst their main aim is to provide a platform for survivors, they also cite policy change within the institution as their second priority. In addition to this, the account’s third aim is to increase the community’s awareness of the prevalence of sexual misconduct via the stories themselves and infographics.
Speaking of this, they said, “When the account gained more attention than anticipated, we felt a responsibility to use our platform to listen to the survivors who have struggled to feel safe or supported in St Andrews, and advocate for the kind of change they need. We were able to identify trends in the submissions we were receiving, where students were being let down by the University both on the reporting and supporting side of things.”
As a result of the submissions to the page and their perceived trends, the administrators devised a policy document entitled “Change We Want to See.” They state that this document was created in order to hold both themselves and the University accountable for addressing each proposed change. The document is available on St Andrews Survivors’ Linktree via their Instagram page.
The document included advising the University to make a “public statement taking accountability for their specific shortcomings in supporting their students in the past and present.”
The administrators also stated that they would like to see the creation of a “safe room” that would be available in the St Andrews’ Students’ Association and the hiring of a specialist within the Student Services who is specifically trained in supporting students involved in incidences of sexual misconduct.
According to the Proctor of The University of St Andrews, Clare Peddie, such policies were discussed in several meetings held throughout semester 1 between the account holders and members of the University, including Professor Peddie herself and Dr Lara Meishcke, Director of Student Services.
However, it was revealed in an email exchange made public by the account administrators, that the relationship between themselves and the University faced a standstill in July and August 2020, with the former alleging that they were being treated as “adversaries” due to the mediation process proposed by the University. The administrators were also concerned by the “insistence upon confidentiality” in discussions moving forward.
The University responded to their concerns about the mediation process, stating that they had “wholly misunderstood [mediation’s] purpose.”
Professor Lorna Milne, Master of the United College and Deputy Principal, responded to an email from St Andrew’s Survivors which contained these concerns:
“The mediation model simply allows participants to feel comfortable about disclosing confidential information, to play a part in reporting and recording decisions and to provide a common framework for discussion.”
Both the University and St Andrews Survivors have since communicated to The Saint that they were able to overcome this “impasse” with Professor Peddie stating that the former stands “ready to continue this communication.”
St Andrews Survivors stated to The Saint, “We still stand by our frustration that they should not have treated us like adversaries they needed to silence in the beginning, but luckily the Proctor and others within the University with whom we have spoken now see that we just want to help them improve things for the community.”
They continued, “We have every hope and belief that the University is willing to make further progress by working with us and listening to the voices of the survivors we represent. Our only lament is that the University still has not sent out any form of public message to the student body addressing the issue of sexual violence in our community, such as the emails sent out over the summer regarding the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We worry that this reflects an unwillingness of the University to acknowledge the problem and their hand in it. All of the student survivors, past and present, from the stories on our page and beyond who were treated unfairly or unkindly by the University deserve acknowledgment and apologies. Whether the University ever recognises it or not, we will not allow this issue to simply go away quietly.”
However, Professor Peddie wished to dispel rumours that the University did not take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously.
Professor Peddie stated to The Saint, “I really want to emphasise that the University absolutely does take action whenever any case of sexual misconduct is raised with us, and the only time where we wouldn’t take any action is if the student didn’t want us to take any action or if we cannot take any action because the account has been raised anonymously and we are not able to follow up because we’ve not got enough details.
“I never want a student to be in a situation where they feel that if they raised an issue that they wouldn’t be listened to and that we wouldn’t do something about it. I think that one unfortunate thing about the St Andrews Survivors account is that it gives people the impression that we wouldn’t take action and we absolutely would.
“It would just break my heart thinking of a student out there who wouldn’t report because they thought that the University wouldn’t respond.”
Several of the proposed “changes” in the “Change We Want to See” document have since been implemented by the University, such as a system for anonymous reporting. “Report + Support” was launched on Friday 6 November 2020, however, Professor Peddie asserted that this system’s creation was “well underway” before the founding of the page.
“Report + Support” is a single reporting tool for all “instances of unacceptable behaviour” and provides an alternative route for reporting from pre-existing methods, such as contacting the Student Conduct Officer. The initiative is a partnership between the University and the Students’ Association, and has been developed with support and engagement from a large consultation group, which included the BAME network, Saints LGBT+, the Feminist Society, the Mental Health Task Force, and the University’s Equally Safe Group.
Speaking of the initiative, Professor Peddie said, “Report + Support allows anonymous reporting – which necessarily constrains our ability to take certain actions. For example, it means we are not able to contact complainers to offer advice/support. Our focus has always been on student safety, however, we also wanted to make sure that we continue to create learning opportunities and ways to ensure every experience matters.”
Professor Peddie stated that whilst the initiative had received “some reports from students, the number reporting is lower than identified on the [St Andrews Survivors] Instagram page.”
Likewise, the creation of a mandatory “Got Consent” online module as part of the orientation process was underway before the foundation of the St Andrews Survivors page.
Professor Peddie stated that the online module is a replacement for the Got Consent workshops which took place yearly in Halls of Residences, but which could not go ahead this Martinmas semester due to COVID-19.
Regarding the work of Got Consent in the aftermath of the founding of St Andrews Survivors, Emma Walsh, Director of Wellbeing at the Students’ Association, stated that a motion was passed last semester to begin the process of making leadership training courses with Got Consent mandatory for all clubs and societies.
Furthermore, according to senior staff at the University, other proposed policies outlined in the “Change We Want to See” document are under continuous review, such as the training of Student Services staff. Over the past year, the University has worked with Rape Crisis Scotland, amongst other national agencies, to provide gender-based violence training to University staff in both Student Services and Human Resources.
Professor Peddie said, “All Student Services staff (including Wardens) had training in September  on internal processes relating to sexual violence disclosures, some of which focused on student feedback and key themes emerging from survivors reports.”
“We also conduct an annual survey of service users (90% of users agreed or strongly agreed that they were satisfied with the service in our latest survey) and work closely with elected Student Sabbatical Officers throughout the year to ensure our support is as wide-ranging and effective as possible.”
Professor Peddie maintained that individual submissions on the St Andrews Survivors Instagram page, and the themes which emerged, have been used in training and in the reflection on practice.
She stated, “We have had frequent meetings with student groups to discuss points of feedback and develop our services. In relation to sexual and gender-based violence issues, this has included meetings with St Andrews Survivors, The Healing Collective, and Got Consent. At meetings we have discussed the feedback and sought to find ways to meet student needs. Often requests made by students to enhance existing resources relate to development already underway (e.g. Report + Support), and it is helpful to have further confirmation from students that these are positive developments.”
However, both Professor Peddie and Dr Meishcke noted the challenge of improving University services based on anonymous experiences with Student Services posted on the St Andrews Survivors Instagram account.
Dr Meishcke said, “It’s extremely difficult with these anonymous responses to try and work out what’s actually happened. We can’t identify them to the level where we could go back and have a look at notes from the member of staff that saw the person – that’s what’s missing in terms of us being able to make real meaningful use of this feedback.
“But I also understand the sensitivity of someone wanting to come forward and give that feedback non-anonymously. One thing that would even be of more value is knowing when these incidences have occurred because there’s been quite a lot of change in policy and practice. A survivor from five years ago saying something is quite different from what I might expect a survivor account to say now. We’re missing the identifying information to help us from doing this, but I also understand why we’re missing that.”
Professor Peddie added, “This is especially true of alumni, where the incident might have happened some time ago prior to many of the advances we have put in the place, like the Got Consent training. That’s really important to us because we don’t know if we’ve already solved the problem or if it’s still an outstanding problem. It’s very difficult for us to respond appropriately as we would love to be able to do. A temporal aspect to the feedback would be extremely helpful even if it was still anonymous.”
St Andrews Survivors has not been the only student group to approach the University with concerns about their handling of sexual and gender-based violence: Campus Safety Society have recently campaigned for a policy change and sent an open letter signed by students to the Proctor.
The open letter proposes that there should be a distinction in the disciplinary policy for misconduct that causes harm to person(s) and harm to property/University. Citing data taken from an FOI based on 2014-2020 statistics, the society “found that less than 50% of all formal reports of sexual misconduct lead to disciplinary action and only 6% resulted in expulsion.”
They continued, “The Campus Safety Society firmly believes that if this policy is changed to separate harm to persons and harm to University/property, the disciplinary committee would be able to strive for stricter punishments to hold those who engaged in sexual misconduct accountable. This, in turn, might also make victims more likely to come forward and report their abuser.”
The society was founded by Abe LeGrant, a former member of AEPi (who left the fraternity after allegations were published concerning it on the St Andrews Survivors Instagram account), in order to “improve the environment on campus and to make sure survivors were empowered and fought for.”
Mr LeGrant, President of Campus Safety Society said, “Immediately after the allegations, many people within the fraternity – myself included – felt that we must change the internal policies of AEPi by stopping all social activities for the foreseeable future and implementing more consent and bystander intervention training. As I have left the fraternity, I do not know if these policies have been implemented or not, but I hope that the brothers of AEPi that have remained ensured they came to fruition.”
Professor Peddie has since responded to the society’s open letter and invited the society to enter into discussions with the University. She stated the policy is constantly under review, but that to divide non-academic misconduct into different strands would be a difficult policy to implement.
She said, “We might have a case of non-academic misconduct and sexual misconduct and also incidences of damage to things – to deal with that whole instance under two different policies would make it difficult for the discipline officer, discipline team, and for myself, to manage that case appropriately. There’s a risk that the process is mismanaged if we add that complexity.”
Furthermore, Professor Peddie stressed that the FOI cited by the Campus Safety Society had only requested information regarding University disciplinary action. The statistics therefore appeared as if no action had been taken in some cases. In reality, another form of action can be taken by the University in response to reports of sexual misconduct. It is called the “conduct risk assessment policy” and can result in “non-contact arrangements, changes to accommodation arrangements, bans/limitations on access to University buildings or services, suspension of studies, and referral to the Police.”
The Rector of The University of St Andrews, Dr Leyla Hussein, has also publicly centred sexual and gender-based violence on campus as a key issue to be addressed during her tenure. She and her team have created a working group for the cause with the aid of the St Andrews Survivors administrators.
Dr Hussein also aims to create a Do No Harm framework for the University, which she told The Saint could “provide a guide for how to compassionately and comprehensively address any instances that could cause harm to individuals or the St Andrews community at large.”
The St Andrews Survivors account briefly ceased posting in December 2020, citing the need to step back over the winter break. The posting of submissions resumed on 25 February 2021.
As for the future of the account, its administrators were uncertain as to whether it would be maintained once they graduate from the University.
They told The Saint, “A group of anonymous students meeting intermittently with the University was never going to be a sustainable arrangement for progress to continue long-term, which is why we are so happy to see other student groups pursuing this important work in a variety of different areas.”
Citing the work of Got Consent, the Rector, and Campus Safety Society, the administrators said, “We continue to consider what the most efficient and effective channels are for us to make a difference, and for now this may include direct meetings with University or Union staff, but in the future, it may simply involve doing what we can to support the admirable student efforts already in place.”
This article has been amended. Originally, it included a quote falsely attributed to The Kate Kennedy Club – the removed quote was not made by anyone affiliated with The Kate Kennedy Club and does not represent the club’s position on the issues nor their disciplinary procedures. The Saint sincerely apologises to the Kate Kennedy Club and our readership for this mistake.