Harassment on Campus - What are we doing about it?

By Benjamin Leatham

Harassment is taking place on campuses across the UK on a regular basis. Individuals are being targeted on the grounds of their gender, sexuality, religion, race and disability. This is unacceptable and action is needed. No one should ever have to face abuse because of who they are.

The purpose of this blog is to outline what YUSU is doing to tackle the harassment taking place on our campus, both online and offline. There has been room for improvement about actions of this nature in the past so I want to make clear the exact steps we are taking:

  • We are offering the support of our Advice and Support Centre to any individual who experiences harassment. The team helps students navigate the University’s complaints procedure to ensure appropriate action is taken. If you want their support contact them at asc@yusu.org
  • We have been helping develop the recently launched NUS Anti-Social Media campaign. It aims to tackle online harassment and abuse without limiting free speech. YUSU’s Head of Democracy & Representation and I took the experiences of York students to their first summit on the 7th of March.  What we have seen at York in recent months is not unique to our campus and so it is right that your experiences inform national leadership on this challenge.  Find out more here - https://www.nusconnect.org.uk/winning-for-students/campaigns/antisocialmedia
  • We are supporting the Women’s Officers in pushing the University to implement an anonymous harassment reporting system.
  • We are working closely with our part-time officers and the University to improve the induction process for new students. This includes:
    • Supporting our part-time officers to develop content for the first ever consent and harassment talk that is being delivered to all new students during Freshers’ Week.
    • Working hard to improve STYC and Head STYC training, especially with regards to training around harassment. The content must be relevant, appropriate and useful.
    • Starting initial discussions with Colleges over the role we can collectively play in tackling harassment online. One potential idea is to deliver sessions to new students where they are given the opportunity to discuss difficult topics in their first few weeks at York. This would be done to raise awareness of, and encourage students to think about, issues like harassment and consent early on. Colleges have already had success with sessions of this nature being delivered to College student committees.
  • We have been heavily involved in the University’s Mental Health Task Group, convened by the Vice Chancellor. Although the report remains confidential at this stage, we will be:
    • Launching a coordinated response to social media abuse on campus. This will be a long term campaign that will require extensive consultation and planning. It may not be launched until next academic year.
    • Pressuring the University to implement the recommendations from the report that work to tackle the deteriorating mental health of York students. Harassment often has an impact on an individual's mental health and so this work is crucial.
  • Alongside the Trans* Network we pressured the University to implement trans* awareness training for the ‘equality champion’ in every department.
  • We expect our ratified student media to make ethical decisions and to operate within the law. This includes decisions on whether or not to name individual students in print. If any student is concerned about any of our ratified student media they can make a complaint. We have a complaints process we can follow to ensure our student media is compliant with our media charter.  
  • We have made public statements previously condemning harassment of all kinds, especially during the YUSU Elections:
    • https://www.yusu.org/blog/view/1540
    • https://www.yusu.org/blog/view/1541
  • We are contacting a large variety of external organisations and individuals for advice and support on how to tackle harassment on campus. As there is a specific issue with the harassment of trans* students we have heavily focused on LGBTQ orientated organisations as well as the NUS LGBT+ officers.
  • We are working closely with individual students on campus who have experienced harassment and abuse to ensure their experiences and insight is informing campus wide action.
  • We are in the process of contacting faith based societies on campus to better understand the harassment that is taking place and what we can collectively be doing about it.

We take harassment on campus incredibly seriously and are taking steps to try and address it. There is always more we can and should be doing though. If you have any ideas or thoughts please email me at b.leatham@yusu.org.

Despite these steps, in order to see real change on this issue, every student on campus needs to take responsibility for what is happening and speak out for the most marginalized in society. Don’t be an onlooker. Act.