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Trinity Hall Cambridge embroiled in sexual misconduct allegations

TW: Sexual Assault

Dr Jeremy Morris, the head of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, has stepped back from his duties after accusations of mishandling sexual misconduct allegations came to light.

The Rev Canon Morris “voluntarily stepped back from duties as Master of Trinity Hall, pending the Col- lege’s further consideration of recent events,” according to a statement on the college’s website.

Alongside Morris, Dr William O’Reilly has also withdrawn from his college duties pending further investigation. Dr O’Reilly is a University Senior Lecturer in Early Modern His- tory and a Fellow at Trinity Hall.

An investigation by Tortoise Media revealed that O’Reilly oversaw a disciplinary process involving multiple reports of sexual assault by a male student, who O’Reilly allegedly had a “close relationship” with during his time as Acting Senior Tutor at Trinity Hall, according to Varsity, Cambridge University’s student newspaper.

Published last week, the investigation also detailed an allegation against O’Reilly of sexually assaulting another male student. Dr O’Reilly declined to comment.

Ella Hill, a reporter at Tortoise, told Cherwell: “We’ve been concerned about campus safety for a while. At a Tortoise ThinkIn last year, we heard several stories of people who had experienced sexual violence on campus and been failed by their university. In part, those discussions led us to the Trinity Hall story.”

“Trinity Hall is a case study – not an exception. There are serious concerns about how universities across the sector address such allegations.”

Trinity Hall announced further resignations on Tuesday. The college announced that Vice-Master, Nick Bampos, will offer his resignation to the Governing Body next week.

Bampos’ resignation comes one day after the women, who brought forward the cases of misconduct, released a statement.

In a statement, the women said: “We have been moved and encouraged by the response from the student and alumni community. Thank you for fighting on our behalf, and for continuing to work so hard to make Trinity Hall a safer place.”

The women go on to offer four guidelines for what should happen next, including the resignation of Dr Jeremy Morris, the implementation of new leadership that “can command confidence of the student body”, and a disciplinary inquiry into Dr O’Reilly.

The women also called for the college to seek external investigation into the handling of sexual misconduct cases.

They added: “Our experience is not exceptional, and we stand in solidarity with all survivors of sexual misconduct – including those whose cases have been mishandled by institutions they trusted to treat them fairly and sensitively.”

The resignations follow mounting pressure from students and alumni.

In an open letter to the Heads of Houses of the constituent colleges of Cambridge University, the University’s Women’s Campaign wrote: “An investigation published in Tortoise this week has revealed that senior leadership at Trinity Hall made a series of decisions amounting to a complete failure to adequately deal with complaints of sexual misconduct and support survivors. The allegations that have been made reveal that the college leadership closed ranks to protect senior members of staff, and attempted to stifle student complaints and staff who supported them.

“We believe that the Trinity Hall case shines a light on a broader issue in the collegiate university, and forces us to seriously question the ability of any college to adequately handle sexual misconduct cases. Even if a college has a policy which represents good practice on paper, when complaints are administered by untrained individuals embedded in a close knit community, there is no guarantee that the policy will be properly followed. Individuals at Trinity Hall continuously prioritised collegiate relationships and college reputation over their duty of care to students. Senior members of staff had too much discretionary power and made a series of indefensible decisions which betrayed a complete disregard for the welfare of students. There has now been a breakdown of trust between Trinity Hall students and college leadership and welfare services.

“There is no reason to believe that Trinity Hall is worse equipped than any other college to handle these cases. We only know an unusual amount about the series of events at Trinity Hall because the college has come under focused scrutiny and has been the subject of investigative journalism. The reality is that cases such as these are not limited to Trinity Hall. Every college will struggle with conflicts of interest within a relatively small environment, as well as a lack of proper training and expertise. Every year, the Women’s Campaign hears from students who found their case quietly dropped or came up against members of college staff who lacked the knowledge or inclination to support them.

“It is clear that colleges are inadequately equipped to handle cases of sexual misconduct. We call on colleges to recognise this fact and commit to one centralised disciplinary procedure for cases of sexual misconduct.”

“The Women’s Campaign will continue to hold the University to account for its handling of sexual misconduct, and to call for further reform from the university disciplinary procedure. Ultimately we hope for one system that students can have faith in, and that the colleges will demonstrate their commitment to student safety over collegiate autonomy.”

The open letter has been signed by 44 groups and organisations, as well as over 830 students, staff and alumni.

A spokesperson for Trinity Hall told Cherwell: “As has been reported, the College has set up a panel of unconflicted Fellows to co-ordinate its response to the issues raised in recent media coverage. The panel will be submitting an interim report to an additional meeting of the Col- lege’s Governing Body in the week commencing 2nd March.”

Trinity Hall has previously come under pressure after an academic was accused of sexually harassing ten students last year.

Dr Peter Hutchinson later resigned from Trinity Hall in November 2019 after over 1,300 staff and students protested that he had been allowed to keep his post.

In response to the Tortoise investigation, the Master of Trinity Hall released a statement on the college’s website before his decision to step back.

The statement said: “We understand that any allegations of this kind at our College will be a matter of deep concern to everyone in our community, and we take them extremely seriously. There is no place for misconduct or inappropriate behaviour of any kind at Trinity Hall, and we are highly aware how important it is to deal with any issues which may arise in a clear and appropriate manner. The safety and welfare of students and staff at the College is a priority for us, and a natural expectation of anyone who comes to study and work here.”

“We will do everything we can to ensure people raising such issues feel safe and supported. The College has its own mental health team, and significant pastoral and tutorial support, in addition to the provision made by the University of Cambridge for all its students and staff.”

“We are aware that many of our students, staff and alumni have expressed important views on these topics in recent times, for which we are grateful, and hope that they will continue to engage with us in the future. We in turn are committed to listening and learning from previous instances of dealing with often challenging matters in the most rigorous manner possible.”

In light of this, Cambridge’s Office for Students is holding a consultation on sexual misconduct and harassment.

Dr Jeremy Morris has been Master of Trinity Hall since 2014.

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