This month, the National Union of Students (NUS), and the 1752 Group (who lobby against staff-to-student sexual misconduct in higher education) launched the UK's first survey into university staff sexual misconduct. Together, they are calling for students past and present to share their experiences. In a recent Guardian article, NUS women's officer Hareem Ghani explains that many universities are without basic guidelines on this issue. This is reflected in numerous accounts from students who felt unsupported by their university, following sexual harassment from a member of staff.
Staff misconduct is part of a wider conversation on the levels of sexual harassment on university campuses. A Drinkaware poll found that 54% of female students have experienced sexual harassment on a night out, and only 1 in 7 reported being surprised by this behaviour. Some key recommendations for addressing these issues at universities can be found in the NUS Hidden Marks report (2011) and Universities UK's Changing the Culture report (2016). These include having formal written procedures for addressing sexual harassment, raising awareness of what constitutes harassment, promoting a zero-tolerance approach, training staff to respond appropriately to incidents, and providing accessible ways for students to report harassment.
We spoke to Hannah Keating — Loughborough Students' Union (LSU) Welfare and Diversity Executive Officer — to find out more about Loughborough University's current approach to addressing sexual violence on campus, and their new Speak Out Now initiative.
The Sexual Violence Working Group
LSU's work in this area is led by the Sexual Violence Working Group. The Group formed over two years ago and is comprised of: academic staff; the LSU president; Hannah Keating; and two students — the Women’s Officer and the Consent Workshop Coordinator, both of whom sit on the Welfare and Diversity Committee with Hannah. The Group is chaired by the Director of Student Services at the University, Manuel Alonso. The benefit of having involvement from across the University is that it allows the group to consider a range of issues, from different perspectives.
The Group run campaigns throughout the year to increase awareness of sexual violence, and to send a clear zero-tolerance message to the University community. The latest of these is Speak Out Now; a new campaign which is being run between Loughborough University and the Students' Union. It aims to highlight the support options available, and to encourage students to speak out against harassment and sexual assault.
In developing Speak Out Now, the Group worked closely with a lecturer in Graphic Design to run a competition; students were asked to create and submit their own graphics for campaign materials. The competition not only helped to raise awareness of sexual violence on campus by encouraging students to talk about the issue, but it offered them a way to get involved in the solution. Group members selected their favourite designs (below), with an emphasis on inclusivity and gender neutrality, to be incorporated into the Speak Out Now campaign.
While it is important to raise awareness and prompt conversations on sexual violence, universities also need to make students aware of the available support and how to access it, if needed. For this reason, the Sexual Violence Working Group have also been involved in developing the University website, creating a dedicated page that offers support for students who have experienced sexual violence. This includes a link to Loughborough University's Sexual Violence Policy which highlights the various processes which can be set in motion when a student confides in a member of staff.
The University's Student Services have recently created a clear, portable handout which is given to all personal tutors, departmental staff, hall wardens and sub-wardens, and LSU Staff so that they are clear on what to do when a disclosure comes to them. The handout provides a simplified breakdown of the University's Sexual Violence Policy, guiding staff through a variety of responses based on whether the student requires an immediate response, or if they wish to take action following an incident, as well as signposting to appropriate support.
Alongside the Speak Out Now campaign, the Group are launching 'Consent Matters' online training for students:
The training is divided into four modules, each lasting around 15 minutes. Module one is on ‘Thinking about Consent’ and it examines what consent actually looks like. Module two explores ‘Communication Skills and Relationships’, including types of physical and verbal communication, as well as boundaries and respect. These sections were developed by sexual health charity Brook, and informed by their work with young people in creating educational resources around sexual consent and sexual assault. The third module looks
at bystander intervention, peer support and looking out for others, and the final module discusses support for those affected by sexual violence, or the friends and family of those affected. These final two modules were developed by Dr. Alan Berkowitz who is an independent consultant to colleges, universities and public health organisations, helping them to design programmes that address health and social issues.
The training is fully interactive and features illustrative videos throughout. At the end of the process, students are required to answer questions about the four modules in order to test their knowledge and understanding. This training is optional for Loughborough University students, but the University's Welfare and Diversity Reps, in all 16 halls of residence, are promoting the training to students, and the University and Students’ Union are using their social media channels to encourage students to get involved.
The big push
While these initiatives are now being 'soft-launched' across the University via social media, the big push will come during Loughborough University's third annual Consent Week in February – in previous years, this has included workshops, talks, film screenings and theater performances.
What schemes and initiatives are in place at your university to ensure student safety? Please get in touch to tell us more!
The ProtectED Code of Practice embeds NUS Hidden Marks, and Universities UK Changing the Culture report recommendations into its Student Harassment and Sexual Assault Instrument.