Do Students Feel Safe On Campuses As They Are Opening Up Post Pandemic?

Saloni adds that many students who joined the university while it was still working in an online mode were not aware of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), since they did not have an orientation about it.

With the reopening of college campuses post-pandemic, the avenue of inaccessibility of campus spaces has reopened. While colleges on their brochures claim to provide an inclusive and accessible environment, the students’ accounts state otherwise.

Safety audit discontinued

Parivartan, the gender forum of Kirori Mal College (KMC) of the University of Delhi (DU), was one of the only students’ initiatives that published an annual safety audit of the college campus. The safety audit was limited to the North Campus area of DU which included parameters like the accessibility of campus areas at different hours, curfew timings, reachability of grievance mechanisms, that is, are grievance mechanisms in place and do they work, etc.

The safety audit that once provided a review for campus and a guide to transforming the campus to be more accessible was discontinued and never resumed.

The issue of campus inaccessibility continues to persist even to this day. Cases of harassment and soft surveillance are one of the many everyday inaccessibility issues that have changed their course over time.

Internal Complaints Committee only on paper?

*Names of the students are changed to protect their identities.

With the penetration of online media, harassment has also shifted from physical to online. Although cases of physical harassment continue, online harassment cases within the campus have risen.

*Saloni, a bachelor’s student of KMC, says that harassment in online spaces has become normalised. “When harassment occurs online, it is difficult for people to approach authorities. The anonymity that works well with the harasser becomes a hurdle to the aggrieved,” claims Saloni. She also adds that many students who joined the university while it was still working in an online mode were not aware of the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). “There was no online orientation for ICC provided for the new students,” laments Saloni.

She also claims that the institution of ICC is just on paper, not just in KMC but in many other colleges. “I know a friend of mine who was harassed by one of her professors. She approached the ICC only to hear that they cannot do anything in such cases,” says Saloni.

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Movements of women students policed instead on ensuring a safe environment

Talking about inaccessibility, Saloni also shares that the inaccessibility has remained after the shift back to offline mode.

The authorities issued a Women’s Hostel regulation notice asking the students not to leave the compound on the day of Holi. “The notice stated that required actions will be taken to ensure women’s safety. How is limiting their movement an action against the issues women face? It is a restriction of accessibility,” complains Saloni painstakingly.

While Saloni points out the issues of campus inaccessibility, there are also accounts of students who seem to be satisfied with the accessibility and safety that their institutions provide.

The role of faculty in making campuses unsafe for students

*Shimona, a bachelor’s Jadavpur University student, also shares the details of a case of harassment by a professor. “The case was reported to ICC, and the professor was removed from that department. However, he soon joined another department at the same university. How does that make anything better?” she continues, “ICC complaints are not addressed properly.”

She also mentions an instance where a professor failed to ensure a safe space for a trans student who had recently come out. “The student had changed her name to suit her identity, which was not appreciated by the professor who continued calling that student by her birth name,” claims Shimona.

Speaking on the issue of campus accessibility, she also points out, “though nobody tells you this on your face, the roads that lead to hostels are dark and isolated. There are drunk people there. No woman would go there after 8 pm.” The streets that lead to the residents of students becomes inaccessible for female students after sundown. “There is also a culture of ‘girlfriend activism’ on campus during the elections. Seniors, who are also the candidates start dating popular female juniors to secure their vote banks and break up right after they win,” claims Shimona.

With the rise of the right-wing on campus, says Shimona, one can notice the change in campus culture. “There is a clear difference between the university’s science and art section, where the former section is inaccessible and unwelcoming,” claims Shimona.

A few campuses do have a better track record

*Angkur, a master’s student of the Indian Institution of Technology, Dhanbad, says that though ICC exists on campus, not many are aware of it. However, he points out that since IIT Dhanbad is a closed campus, the safety is “robust.”

*Arushi, a bachelor’s student of Fergusson College, points out that her college takes women’s safety seriously. “We have regular workshops on women’s safety awareness, enough pad vending machines are installed on campuses, and separate washrooms are built for the disabled,” she claims.

While there are institutions that do well in making their campus spaces accessible, there still is a long way to go. Campuses are their abode to students, and they need to be accessible. Failing to make the campus accessible to its students not only disrupts the purpose of a campus but also encourages a culture of discrimination that leaves imprints on those enrolled.

*Names of the students are changed to protect their identities.

Image source: shutterstock

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About the Author

Ishita Roy

Ishita is based in Delhi and is a student of History and Journalism. She covers stories on law, gender and heritage. read more...

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