Anni Donaldson, journalist and Equally Safe in Higher Education (Eshe) project lead at University of Strathclyde, examines how a series of campaigns are aiming to get this year's freshers thinking about consent
SOME new lessons are on the cards for the droves of freshers arriving at many of Scotland’s universities this month – sex without consent is rape.
When mum and dad have been waved off and the lure of freedom and freshers’ fairs beckon, this new and surprising lesson about university life will be coming through loud and clear.
Right there among the gigs and goody bags, the late nights and union shenanigans, the matric cards and the new digs, Scotland’s students are hearing this: from everyday sexism to rape and everything in between, none of it will be tolerated. Student unions, lecturing staff and university managers are joining forces to drive the message home that preventing sexual violence is campus business and everyone’s responsibility.
Right there among the gigs and goody bags, the late nights and union shenanigans, the matric cards and the new digs, Scotland’s students are hearing this: from everyday sexism to rape and everything in between, none of it will be tolerated.
Angela Alexander, NUS Scotland women’s officer, says: "NUS research has found that one in five students experiences some form of sexual harassment in their first week of study, and two thirds of students were unaware of how to report being victim of harassment.
"The prevalence of these incidents, and the lack of clarity on reporting processes, is incredibly concerning, and highlights the need for universities and colleges to strengthen and promote their procedures in these areas."
Isabelle Kerr, manager of Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre and the Rosey Project, receives a substantial number of calls from university and college students. Kerr is unequivocal: "Women can’t stop rape. The bottom line for young men is, if you see a young woman who you think is really nice, don’t rape her – just gonnae no dae that!
"Those who commit most rapes and sexual assaults on students are not strangers; it could be a guy in a woman’s crowd of friends or someone they’ve dated a couple of times," she says.
For Kerr, everyone should shoulder some reponsibility in trying to tackle poor attitudes.
“NUS research has found that one in five students experiences some form of sexual harassment in their first week of study.” Angela Alexander, NUS Scotland
"It’s everyone’s responsibility to challenge rape culture, the jokes, the sense of entitlement of some young men that young women’s bodies are available," she says.
"Young women have the right to say no and for that to be accepted without question or coercion. Sexual encounters should be a positive experience and no place for power or abuse."
Alexander is encouraged that there are numerous examples of peer-led initiatives and workshops being adopted on Scottish campuses. "Universities, colleges, and students’ associations are working together to educate students in topics like consent, as well as on how to safely intervene in these situations," she says.
At Glasgow University, the Student Representative Council’s (SRC) Let’s Talk campaign is encouraging discussion about sexual violence among student groups. Supported by the university, the SRC has been collaborating with Glasgow Caledonian University Student Association and Rape Crisis Scotland to develop special training.
Over 400 students have so far taken part in the Let’s Talk workshops, which have a strong survivor focus and teach about sexual consent and how bystanders can intervene safely.
Erin Ross, vice president at Glasgow University SRC, is pleased with the early success of the campaign.
"One young male volunteer told me, 'This campaign needs boys and they need to convince other young men to take part'." Kallia Manoussari, UWS
"Teams of freshers’ week helpers have been trained," she says. "This week they will come into close contact with new students and will be there to act as peer advisors. Our student trainers will also be going into halls and delivering sessions to students and residence staff."
Kallia Manoussari, a psychology lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, is delighted with this year’s freshers’ response to their new student-led campaign Standing Safe – organisers have been inundated with offers to work on the campaign and for places on future workshops.
For Manoussari, this isn’t only a women’s issue, and campus campaigns like Standing Safe need both men and women.
"Young men haven’t embraced it as wholeheartedly as young women but the ones who have are passionate about it," she explains. "One young male volunteer told me, 'This campaign needs boys and they need to convince other young men to take part'."
Manoussari believes having men involved in the UWS campaign "benefits everyone".
Dr. Penny Turnbull, director of student services at St. Andrews University has made it compulsory for all students moving into university residences to attend workshops by the campus’ Standing Together campaign, developed in partnership with the Violence Reduction Unit – these focus on sexual consent, sexual violence and anti-social behaviour.
“The purpose of this is to increase awareness of what consent actually is and the importance of it, especially in student accommodation where sexual assaults are not uncommon.” Simran Kaur, Strathclyde Student Assocation
The University of Strathclyde Student Association is launching its new sexual consent campaign – 'Consent is Mandatory' – during freshers’ week.
Simran Kaur, vice president diversity, explains: "The purpose of this is to increase awareness of what consent actually is and the importance of it, especially in student accommodation where sexual assaults are not uncommon.
"This is just one part of a wider agenda to tackle sexual assaults and harassment within the Strathclyde University community."
With similar work going on at Stirling and Abertay Universities, Scottish universities are waking up to their responsibilities to link their leadership role in education to their duty of care to students.
For Manoussari, the university has responsibilities far beyond the classroom.
"A university is not just about imparting formal knowledge, it is also about our students becoming responsible global citizens," she says. "This is very, very important."
"A university is not just about imparting formal knowledge, it is also about our students becoming responsible global citizens," Kallia Manoussari, UWS
Alexander and the NUS also recognise the wider importance of this work.
"Encouraging open and honest discussion about sexual health among students at the start of their studies wouldn’t just have a positive effect for students, but for society as a whole," she argues.
It looks like Scotland’s universities are on it … at long last.
Picture courtesy of Strathclyde Student Association
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