Content warning: reference to rape
Ross Brain, The University of Edinburgh’s Sport and Exercise club’s senior instructor, was recently dismissed from his role following an “abhorrent” message put on the staff’s WhatsApp group chat after a woman failed to turn up to a six-week workout programme. The message states, “Lets rape her. Or give her the choice of 600 burpees or rape.” Following a lack of response from fellow staff, Brain followed with, “No-one up for this then?”, showing a lack of regret and fundamental ignorance for his previous comment.
While his dismissal rightfully comes as no shock, disappointment has come following the university’s tardiness. The message was sent on the chat in December and reported in January; but until student intervention in April, it seemed that no serious action had been taken against Brain.
After hearing of the incident in mid- April, student officials came together to write a formal letter to Peter Mathieson, Principal of The University of Edinburgh. A four-point programme was set out in which the students requested for the immediate dismissal of Ross Brain. As well as this, a commitment to the university’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy was demanded by which the complete transparency was requested around the process and outcome of such disciplinary processes, unlike the case of Brain in which many believed the issue to have been “swept under the rug”. Over 1,000 students signed the letter in solidarity, revealing the widespread feeling of being “unwelcome, unsafe and unsatisfied”.
Brain was subsequently dismissed on 24 April, but students worry that this is one of many cases unheard of. One member of staff at the Pleasance Sports complex told the Edinburgh Evening News that “one senior manager apparently told female members of staff they must wear tight leggings because “it looks more professional”, and “one of the girls is considering leaving” due to feelings of intimidation.
In response to the letter Peter Mathieson replied as follows:
“We have a zero-tolerance stance towards sexual harassment of any kind and are absolutely committed to providing an environment in which all members of the University community treat others with dignity and respect. We put significant effort into reinforcing our zero-tolerance culture including through campaigns such as ‘Don’t Cross the Line’. While we do not comment on the detail or outcome of individual cases, we can confirm that a full disciplinary investigation has taken place in this instance.”
While the letter overtly shows that the university does not advocate such acts of offence, the fact that the Brain Ross incident happened reveals a deeper institutional failure to commit to and carry out such a necessary policy.
Image: Sara Konradi