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The ongoing legal case of Raquel Rosario Sanchez and the University of Bristol

A PhD student at the University of Bristol has sued the University over their alleged failure to protect her from harassment and bullying from trans rights activists.

By Joe Green, News Investigations Editor

A PhD student at the University of Bristol has sued the University over their alleged failure to protect her from harassment and bullying from trans rights activists.

Raquel Rosario Sanchez, a feminist writer, campaigner and academic, initially launched civil action against the University after her involvement with feminist political campaign Woman’s Place UK led to what Rosario Sanchez describes as bullying and harassment from trans activist students both inside and outside university campus.

In a court case that has been taking place over the past week, the 32-year-old has detailed how she was labelled as a “Terf” (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) after she agreed to chair a Woman’s Place UK meeting held in Bristol, as well as being ordered by Bristol SU to step down as president of the feminist society, Women Talk Back, and banned from holding an SU leadership position for two years for preventing people who identified as transgender women from attending female-only events.

Rosario Sanchez first notified the University on 1 February 2018 regarding the “malicious rumours” she said were being spread about her.

The PhD student has said that both her mental health and academic performance suffered as a result of a two year “hate campaign” that she alleges included an individual at the University writing online that they want to ‘punch terfs’, and incitement on social media for eggs and milkshakes to be thrown at her.

She believes that her initial complaints against the students responsible for this behaviour were not treated fairly, and has accused the University of “not only failing to protect me by upholding their own policies but instead, has decided to blame and gaslight me while enabling its overwhelmingly white, British and Russell-Group-educated bullies.”

The Bristol civil and family justice centre was told last week by Rosario Sanchez: “I just felt very sad because I just want to live my life, go to campus and go to my centre and not face intimidation.”

“In March 2018, I thought I was going to get that, but now knowing how long this has taken is making me sad.”

Woman’s Place UK, or WPUK, said in a statement on the 10th February that “it is well-known that Bristol University failed to discipline students and staff who threatened Rosario Sanchez because of her belief that women’s sex-based rights matter.”

“This court case has obliged Bristol University to release documents which reveal that senior staff at this elite institution actively opposed WPUK and women’s rights”.

WPUK describes its aim as “to end violence, harassment and abuse of women and girls.” The group has previously been criticized by the Labour Campaign for Trans Rights who labelled it a “transphobic hate group” that sought to “denigrate the rights of trans people”.

A crowdfunding page titled ‘Bullying and Harassment Enabled by Bristol University’ has raised £88,972 as of Wednesday evening, with a blogpost from Rosario Sanchez on 6thFebruary outlining her claims against the University as negligence, indirect sex discrimination, harassment based on sex, unlawful victimization and breach of contract.

Speaking to the Telegraph in 2021, Rosario Sanchez defended her exclusion of transgender women from female-only events by citing the Equality Act 2010 which cites biological gender as a protected characteristic.

A Bristol SU spokesperson said in response to this: “The definition of ‘women’ in the Bristol SU byelaws is “all who self define as women, including (if they wish) those with complex gender identities that include ‘woman’, and those who experience oppression as women”.

A University of Bristol spokesperson added ahead of the court case: “Ms Rosario Sánchez has chosen to take legal action against the university. Given this, we will not comment further. All concerns about harassment or bullying are taken seriously and action taken in accordance with our university policies. If staff or students have concerns or complaints, we encourage them to raise them directly with us.

“We are committed to making our university a place where all feel safe, welcomed and respected, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, disability or social background.”

Featured Image: Epigram / Cameron Scheijde