On the occasion of International Women’s Day, the National Union of Students (NUS) have published a report – ‘That’s what she said’ – on lad culture in higher education. Kelley Temple, NUS National Women’s Officer, discusses the report and calls for stakeholders to come together to lay a national strategy to respond to lad culture.

I have been silenced in a classroom environment by someone who is one of the lads if you like, because I didn’t agree with something he did. He essentially did a repeat of what David Cameron did, the whole ‘calm down dear’ thing. Even the teacher who was female didn’t challenge it. She just looked at her papers, shuffled them, looked really awkward. I knew she had heard, everyone had heard.”


This is what one of the participants in That’s what she said, our newly published report into ‘lad culture’, reported when asked about the influence that ‘lad culture’ had had on her education.

The National Union of Students commissioned this independent research into women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education as a result of the troubling accounts, both in the media and from our membership, of the increasing prevalence of ‘lad culture’ on campuses across the country.

Researchers at the University of Sussex undertook a literature review and did qualitative research with forty women students on their experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education. What they found was that women students’ lives are significantly shaped by ‘lad culture’—in the classroom, in their extracurricular activities, and especially in the social sphere.

‘Lad culture’ was defined by the participants as a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic. Participants identified that it was extremely prevalent on campuses across the country.

‘Lad culture’ was seen as centred on the social side of university life, but what is clear from the research is that these different spheres of university life are actually intricately intertwined. The quote above illustrates the way that these issues can permeate into the academic sphere, further underlining the point that ‘lad culture’ is an important issue that higher education institutions need to address.

However, it was also clear that participants experienced ‘lad culture’ to a great extent within the social side of university life. One student told the researchers:

I don’t know anyone, any of my female friends who haven’t had some kind of encounter that was harassment whether it be verbal or physical since they’ve been at university.”

NUS highlighted the alarming rate of sexual harassment and violence against women students in our 2010 report, Hidden Marks, which found that one in seven women students had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student, and more than two thirds of women students had been a victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student. We know that these experiences can have knock-on effects in other parts of students’ lives.

What this new research reveals is the way in which sexual harassment and assault are linked to ‘lad culture’ with its emphasis on excessive alcohol consumption and a ‘pack’ mentality that normalises misogyny. A participant described:

…a friend who had some guy that even put his hand down her pants on the dance floor. And she was a really quiet girl and she didn’t say anything. She told me when she got out of the club. I was so angry I wanted to go and punch him, but I couldn’t find him in the club. I’ve heard of a few friends who have had things like that happened that have gone past a joke. I think guys think it’s okay to do that.”

Groping and sexual harassment were described by some participants as part of a ‘normal’ night out, a deeply disturbing finding of the research and one which should cause higher education institutions as well as students’ unions to pay attention to the stark realities facing many of their students.

Today, on International Women’s Day, NUS is calling for stakeholders across the higher education sector to come together in a summit and to lay out a national strategy to respond to ‘lad culture’. The entire higher education sector—NUS included—has played a role in allowing ‘lad culture’ to flourish on our campuses and we all need to consider what our role will be in reversing this trend.

Download the full report ‘That’s what she said’ on the NUS website

Kelley Temple is National Union of Students National Women’s Officer.