One of Jordan Kenny’s top personal goals was to tackle ‘lad culture’ at Bath; this survey is the culmination of his efforts thus far. The results are fairly damming and Kenny recognises that some in the institution may be “shocked” by the results, but that as a union they weren’t overly surprised by the results.
In regards to the Union’s response, Kenny stresses that ‘reporting mechanisms’ and ‘awareness’ are the key focus areas, especially considering the divergence between those experiencing sexual harassment and those reporting it. “In my position”, he said, “I’m aware that people can talk to the officers, the SU, the University, resident tutors, security… multiple points of contact are good but people need to know who these multiple points of contact are. This might be through inductions, a handbook, a union job, but you still need to step over a barrier to make yourself known to someone, which can be difficult. So right now we’re working on an online submission system with Gender Equality. This will hopefully give students the ability to report things anonymously, know who they can speak to on campus and know what’s going to happen with that information so we can collect it properly and look at trends”.
He also stresses the need to make policies more student-friendly and work with student groups to promote equality and diversity through programmes such as the Inclusivity Award and The Pledge – for societies and individuals to declare their opposition of lad culture. On top of this, Kenny understands the small things required to enact change; “the language that people use, that lecturers use, that I use, right through to rape supportive attitudes and sexual harassment, which are a massive deal… [we don’t want] to trivialise them in relation to lad culture, [we want to] talk about why things are wrong on campus and for people to have a frank discussion about it”.
The need to understand these language issues, in relation to lad culture and sexual harassment, is a priority that the survey has highlighted, with Kenny arguing “People need to know that ‘lad culture’ is defined somewhere so people have the confidence to say if they are being harassed. In the survey there’s a discrepancy between people who say they’ve been harassed and those who say they’ve been pinched or groped, so we need to explain to people that this is harassment”.
Whilst the SU is clear in how to work with victims, there is also the issue of perpetrators, especially as only 29% of students feel that lad culture is prevalent on campus. Kenny admits that this is an issue; “It’s difficult, and no campaign succeeds just by raising awareness. Hopefully by being specific about lad culture we can show people its true impact. I think you have to be a fairly strong minded person to suggest that nothing you’ve ever done has ever put someone off doing something.
“There might be a reason individuals need to be reminded of the specifics. Are student groups a breeding ground for issues? They do so much positive work but there are undeniably negative events. ‘Lad Culture’ is the tip of the iceberg and it can trivialise really complicated issues – if you deny that sexual harassment, racism, homophobia and ableism aren’t happening on our campus, I think you’re wrong, in all honesty”.
The issues on campus should be made clearer when qualitative results are released in a few weeks, which will drive the response of the SU; “if the survey comes back with several references to a particular club then I think we can assume that there is a problem. We wouldn’t be able to act in the same way as if there was a complaint and a disciplinary hearing, but we would have to seriously investigate what is going on. If one incident that was repeatedly referenced I think we could confidently take action. Right now all I can say is we will work with the officers in the relative areas and start to address any specific issues”.
Regardless of the potential response, this is at least a start. The academic year is only thirty weeks and it’s hard to identify a problem, research it and act on it in that time. Kenny has been vocal about ‘Lad Culture’ all year and has been serious in the approach he’s taken to following up his pledge. “The survey”, he claims, “was to gather all the research, and to create that campus where we are starting to challenge institutional issues, and I think that is probably happening.
“I’ve had people coming up to me who might have never dreamed of asking me about equality and diversity issues and I think that’s a really positive step. I think it’s now upon our diversity and support groups to really engage with the wider student body to address the issues. There is a sense of naivety and that naivety is not okay, but it does exist”.
This is progress, and whilst the issue is far from closed, whoever takes Kenny’s role next will at least have a strong base to continue to tackle the issues.