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Third NUS lad culture report: still sickening

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NUS, lad culture, hidden marks, Women on campus, safety issues, sexismThe NUS has announced the next phase of its fight against ‘lad culture’.

Hidden Marks,  a study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault, was published in 2010.

That’s What She Said, a report on women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education was published in 2013.

Both these exposed the true extent of the pervasiveness of lad culture at universities – but it seems that little has been done.

And now The Lad Culture Audit has been released; ‘the NUS’s most comprehensive analysis of lad culture policy and practice undertaken to date’.

The aim of the report was to understand what, if anything, is being done to tackle lad culture.

It also wanted to identify strengths and weaknesses in current policies, to examine the quality of care given to victims and to find examples of good practice.

And it recommends ways of supporting students’ unions (SUs) and higher education institutions (HEIs) in addressing lad culture.

But the findings reveal a startling lack of provision, training, and support in both universities and their students’ unions.

One of the key findings of the report was that many students’ unions and academic institutions do not have a policy which directly addresses lad culture.

Equality and diversity (E&D) and bullying and harassment policies were in evidence in the majority of institutions, but many were ill-defined, were often not relevant to lad culture and at times even unclear on what is meant by sexual harassment and assault.

Meanwhile, both students’ unions and institutions were shown to have ‘gaps’ in policy that specifically targets lad culture: just half of the institutions (51 per cent) had a formal policy on sexual harassment and only 1 in 10 had a policy that covered the display of sexist and discriminatory material.

Even less clear were the policies institutions had set up regarding complaints procedures, many of which put the onus on victims to try and resolve matters ‘informally’ first.

One institution’s HR handbook even said: “Speaking to the person who is causing you distress is always an informal option and an approach preferred by many in delicate circumstances.

“This is because sometimes individuals are genuinely not aware of the offensive effect of their behaviour and will naturally stop when it is brought to their attention.”

There is a real danger that these so-called policies are forcing victims rather than institutions to take responsibility for addressing difficult situations.

But if institutions fail to provide clear or sufficient information on the victim support programmes which are available, the situation may be even further compounded.

Worryingly, the existence of lad culture training and education programmes was shown to be minimal in students’ unions, with only one in ten (11 per cent) providing training and just 32 per cent providing sexual consent workshops.

The issue of consent was shown to be even less of a consideration in institutions, just 6 per cent of which counted consent as part of their curriculum.

The report presents the results from an audit conducted between December and February 2015.

The findings are based on information from the 35 student unions that responded to the survey and the 20 student unions that sent through supporting policy documents for the audit.

Lad culture is defined as a group or pack mentality found in activities such as sport clubs and nights out and what is called ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic, while sexual harassment ranges from verbal harassment or catcalling, to physical harassment and sexual molestation.

This audit also highlights that without proper support and direction from the education sector, the scarcity of training and policy evidenced will continue to foster a critical lack of awareness and action among staff and students.

Despite the audit’s evidence that many students’ unions are now beginning to wake up to the challenges inherent to tackling lad culture, they cannot make the required changes alone.

It is now incumbent upon institutions to work with their unions and other places of learning in order to create a national framework and combat sexual violence and harassment.

In a further step in that direction, nine university students’ unions have volunteered to take part in ‘the Lad Culture Pilot Scheme’.

The nine are: University of Bradford, Cardiff University, Kings College London, Leeds University, LSE, Queen Mary’s University London, Oxford University, University of Sussex and University of Warwick.

This scheme was launched on 27 July, and will see the students’ unions working with the NUS to begin looking at how to build their own Lad Culture Strategy and to share best practice with other unions, NUS staff and representatives and people and groups who have a vested interest in tackling lad culture.

In turn, the NUS will be learning more about the pioneering campaigns run by the pilot students’ unions in order to learn how lad culture is already being tackled on campuses.

The NUS’s Women’s Officer, Susuana Amoah, said: “We, the student movement and society as a whole, are no longer in a position where we can continue to allow the issues women face on campuses across the UK and beyond to be ignored.

“Yes – women can participate in education, work and social activities, but that doesn’t mean that these spaces are accessible to all women or that women are treated fairly and respectfully.

“In fact, harassment, violence and blatant discrimination can make education and other spaces inaccessible for many students, not just women.

“I am proud of students’ unions and the student movement for their ongoing support and the hard work they are doing on the ground to combat this, but we need more and NUS and students’ unions cannot fix this problem alone.

“In order to really challenge this issue and change it, we need the education community, as a whole, to get behind us and support us in embedding a framework that will not just deal with these issues, but actually stop them from happening.

“This is our call to you to join us and challenge Lad Culture, sexual harassment and violence on campus and make education and other spaces accessible for women and many other students.”

Dr Alison Phipps, Director of Gender Studies and Reader in Sociology at the University of Sussex, said: “[The] NUS has been breaking new ground in developing and supporting initiatives to address ‘lad culture’ and sexual violence against students.

“This audit has been a fantastic tool in helping students’ unions to understand these problems, how they are being dealt with on their campuses and what more needs to be done.”

She was, she continued, full of admiration for individuals and Students’ Unions who were tackling the issues, sometimes in what she called ‘very unsupportive institutional contexts’.

“I hope that Universities UK and other relevant organisations will meet us in our efforts, specifically through pressuring more universities to take action at institutional levels,” she said.

We do too.

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