By Ciara Browne, Deputy News Editor
University College Cork has launched the Speak Out Anonymous Reporting Tool which is a new online tool that will allow students and staff at UCC to anonymously report incidents of bullying, cyber bullying, discrimination, harassment, coercive behavior or control, assault, stalking, sexual harassment and assault, and rape. The tool was launched in UCC on February 8th 2022.
In October 2021, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris launched ‘Speak Out – the Anonymous Violence and Harassment Reporting Tool’ for higher education institutions. Mr. Harris said at the time that he was “delighted to launch this incredibly important initiative. The creation of this innovative and supportive online platform will provide a safe and anonymous medium for students and staff to report incidents of bullying, assault or sexual violence in a trauma-informed environment.”
Mr. Harris has said that these are issues that his department is acutely aware of and that they are delighted to be in a position to provide funding to the vital project. Speak Out represents a national approach to tackling these issues by raising awareness, and by providing a means of recording instances, which will assist in achieving a zero-tolerance culture.
The project is set to be rolled out across 18 higher education institutions throughout this academic year (21/22) for students, staff and visitors. The Psychological Counsellors of Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) are leading the project, and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science is funding it. The HEA Centre of Excellence for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion has also supported the project. The 2019 “Framework for Consent in Higher Education Institutions: Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive- Ending Sexual Violence and Harassment” in Higher Education Institutions outlined the need for data to be collected on the incidence rates of sexual harassment and violence across the Irish higher education sector.
The data collected through this tool will be used to inform policy and targeted educational initiatives. It was the goal of PCHEI to provide a trauma-informed tool that would provide users with support services relevant to their experience. The Speak Out Tool project is a ground-breaking initiative which is underpinned by an ethos of cross-institutional collaboration in response to such incidents within higher education institutions. Gertie Raftery, Chairperson of the PCHEI, and Project Leader, said that he was delighted to have led on behalf of PCHEI, the “development of Speak Out which provides a voice for students and staff in Higher Education to speak out about their experiences of sexual harassment, violence or intimidation of any kind,” (The Irish Times).
Several other Irish Universities are using the Speak Out Tool, to allow a safe work and student environment for staff and students, among them are University of Limerick, University College Dublin, Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin, National University Ireland Galway, and Technical University Dublin. The data collected in this tool is completely anonymous, meaning users will not be identifiable, also meaning that users’ data cannot be returned, should they request it. The Speak Out Tool allows universities to direct students and staff to helpful supports, and provides information relating to a range of options that can assist users in dealing with the incidents mentioned previously.
UCC President Professor John O’Halloran welcomed the launch, saying that at University College Cork, we want to, “ensure a campus culture of dignity and respect is fostered and maintained. We have a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination or any form of misconduct. We want to ensure our University is a safe, inclusive and welcoming place, where everyone feels they belong.”
Dr. Avril Hutch, Director of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit, added how the Speak Out Tool will allow for the information gathered to be used to help inform policy, education and training initiatives across the university. Student Union President, Asha Woodhouse, said that “The Speak out Tool is an incredibly important initiative.”
Not only will it allow students and staff to disclose experiences of misconduct and unacceptable behavior through a safe and anonymous platform, but it will also inform how we as an institution can develop a trauma-informed and zero-tolerance approach to such misconduct and unacceptable behaviors…Data collected through the Speak out Tool will play a pivotal role in development of policy and targeted educational initiatives both at local and national level.” (UCC.ie)
To report an incident please go to the UCC Speak Out Tool webpage and click, “Make a Report”. More information on the Speak Out Tool can be found under the Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Unit section of the UCC website (UCC.ie) and students and staff may also email firstname.lastname@example.org, in confidence, for further information.