Sexism on Campus

Based on an original article by Alison Utley

Sexism and sexual harassment on campus is a distressing issue, and more prominent than you may think.

The problem of sexism at university takes many forms, from casual 'banter' to online trolling, harassment and physical attacks – mostly, but not exclusively, aimed at women.

This section is devoted to raising awareness of sexism, and to give support and advice if you encounter it. This content is intended to inform, not frighten or alarm you.

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What is it? • Online Sexism

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What is Sexism?

Sexism is prejudice or discrimination against somebody’s sex or gender. It is too common on university campuses.

University is a time for individuals to shape their identities and campuses should be a safe and encouraging space for everyone to do so.

Sexism at university: the facts

The effects of university ‘lad culture’ are beginning to be understood through accounts particularly, but not exclusively, from female students. In all cases they reveal the negative impact and harm that lad culture can have on an individual’s education and university life. The recent reports and surveys cited below report distressing student experiences.

The NUS ‘Lad Culture’ Audit

In July 2015, the National Union of Students (NUS) released their Lad Culture Audit. Based on data collected between December 2014 and February 2015, the audit is the largest ever study into campus sexism.

The audit asked nine university students’ unions to audit themselves on instances of sexual harassment and how they dealt with them. Some of the findings were troubling:

  • 51% had a formal policy on sexual harassment
  • Only one union had a policy concerning the display of sexist and discriminatory material
  • 11% provided ‘lad culture’ training and education programmes
  • 32% provided sexual consent workshops
  • 6% counted the issue of consent as part of their curriculum.

There were some positive outcomes of the audit. A ‘Lad Culture’ Pilot Scheme was introduced to encourage institutions to work with students’ unions on tackling this issue. Unions involved include Bradford, Cardiff, King’s College London and Warwick.

The NUS list four ways to combat sexism at universities:

  • Don’t stand for it. Call people out for their sexist behaviour. Silence is a form of acceptance.
  • Discuss experiences, issues and solutions with those around you. The more awareness spread about society, the better.
  • Bring about change. This could be achieved through speaking to a union representative.
  • Get involved in the union’s policy. For example, partaking in feminist societies. One successful instance at Bradford University saw the campaign, ‘No More Page 3.’ The Sun and Daily Star newspapers were banned from outlets on campus until Page 3 was removed from the papers.

Another NUS study from October 2015 found that:

  • 17% of respondents from the survey expressed that they had been victims of some sort of sexual harassment during their first week of university
  • 29% had seen sexual harassment directed at someone else within the first week
  • 59% of incidents occurred at social events or nightclubs, and a further 33% in halls
  • 61% claimed they were not made aware of any codes of conduct implemented by their university
  • 66% were unaware of the procedure to report these incidents and 12% felt they wouldn’t be taken seriously if they did.

Graphic tales of highly sexualised alcohol-fuelled nights out which begin in Freshers’ week seem to set the tone for an educational experience which, far from empowering students, can leave some feeling unhappy and unsafe. The worry is that the unchecked growth of lad culture will damage Higher Education’s mission to create safe, positive environments in which all students can flourish.

Online Sexism

Online harassment and internet trolls were uncovered in NUS studies. There have been trends on social media with so-called ‘spotted’ or ‘confessions’ pages at many universities. Photographs are taken of people unaware in the library or elsewhere on campus, with their pictures widely shared, rated, and commented on ‒ regularly in a misogynistic manner.

One woman complained about the Facebook ‘Uni Lad’ group, saying that it “regularly posts demeaning things about women and rape jokes, which I and my fellow female students find appalling. I have seen many male university friends have ‘liked’ the page.”

It has even been reported that female students’ rooms have been entered at night, duvets torn off and photographs taken and circulated.