The National Union of Students has initiated a discussion on lad culture in universities. Asiya Islam recently participated in a panel discussion on the issue at the NUS national conference, here she shares the highlights of the conversation.
We recently published a blog post by Kelley Temple, NUS National Women’s Officer, on the National Union of Students’ report ‘That’s what she said’ on lad culture in higher education.
In 2010, NUS had published another report on the issue, entitled ‘Hidden Marks’. The report found that “One in seven respondents had experienced a serious physical or sexual assault during their time as a student, 12% had been stalked while at university or college, and 68% had been a victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment while they were at university.”
‘That’s what she said’ digs deeper into lad culture at universities, especially looking at what can be done to combat it. The report observes that both higher education policies and gender equality policies have so far not addressed this issue specifically. NUS is therefore calling for a discussion among all stakeholders.
One such discussion took place at their recent national conference that I was invited to. Lucy Holmes, leading the No More Page 3 campaign, and Liam Burns, the outgoing NUS President, were my fellow-panellists. There was a lot of interest in the issue and the discussion brought up many important points.
It was recognised that sexism on campuses manifests in quite specific ways, inculcating what we call ‘lad culture’. Many students (both women and men) may participate in such a culture because of peer pressure or to ‘fit in’. As such, it becomes even more difficult to call out on the issue.
Developing spaces (or counter-spaces, given that there are plenty of websites, such as UniLad, providing forums to lad culture) was suggested as a step forward. Students’ unions were seen to be, knowingly or unknowingly, partaking in this culture and it was discussed that unions should develop better policies and vetting procedures for students societies’ events.
The role of institutions in combating lad culture in higher education should also not be underestimated. At our seats of learning, such culture, attitudes and behaviour must be unequivocally unacceptable. Training staff responsible for students’ pastoral care or welfare on the specifics of lad culture and sexism would be a useful step forward.
NUS will be carrying forward this discussion by engaging with more stakeholders. They are also calling for a national summit on lad culture in higher education.
Asiya Islam is a feminist blogger (www.whyamiafeminist.blogspot.com) and currently works as Equality and Diversity Adviser at LSE. She graduated with Master’s in Gender, Media and Culture from LSE in 2010.