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The Hot Seat: Hareem Ghani

Monday 23-11-2015 - 12:16

Hareem Ghani is the co-founder of It Stops Here, a collaborative initiative by King’s College London and the students’ union, KCLSU, to address the issue of sexual harassment and sexism.

King’s College London is one of nine pilot unions for our Lad Culture Strategy. We met with her to discuss the campaign and the working group and the centre of all its activities.

How did It Stops Here begin?

Me and our ex Welfare and Community Officer Jamie Sweeney co-founded this campaign in a bid to get the university to realise that the harassment and guidance policy did not have specific protocols for cases of harassment.

The issue came to the forefront in December last year, two months after I had been elected women’s officer. One night I was casually browsing my Facebook newsfeed, when I received a message from a peer who had been directed to me regarding a rather unique case concerning the harassment of her friends. I can say with all honesty, that it wasn’t until this very moment that I was confronted with the brutal reality of sexual harassment in a space that I had up until this point thought to be a safe space for all members of its community. There was this sudden realisation on my part that I (and by extension the university) needed to act, and ensure that concrete systems were put into place.

This process was three-fold: firstly, we had to address the issue of harassment in the first place and create a culture of zero tolerance at King’s, secondly we had to look into training our frontline staff (via the Rape Crisis Centre), and lastly provide survivor care in the form of support groups or self-care workshops.

What is the role of the working group? 

To be frank, without the working group I can say with absolute certainty that this campaign would not exist. This group consists of representatives from all tiers of the University and Union who have been meeting regularly since October last year to think of strategy and ensure nothing has been overlooked.

The working group consists of roughly seven people (maximum). This includes: the Vice Principal of Education, Karen O’Brien; the Director of Student Services, Chris Shelley; one of our Harassment Advisers, Alison Stenson; our BME Student Attainment Officer, Hana Riazuddin; our Diversity and Inclusions Manager, Debbie Epstein; Vice President of Welfare and Community, Jamie Sweeney; as well as Rachel Williams and myself.

The responsibilities have been divided as such: university faculty provide us with resources (e.g. funds), and Union representatives (Rachel Williams and I) alongside Hana Riazuddin decide where to allocate the funding. Furthermore, the university has taken control of revising Harassment and Guidance Policy (so the grassroots of the campaign) and offering financial aid to train staff and student leaders. I have been delegated the responsibility of ensuring that we have high student participation, and working with the Union to ensure we roll out workshops to student leaders and host collaborative events with societies on all campuses to get the word out there.

How have students been involved with the campaign?

I think it’s important to realise that the campaign has reached its maximum potential because of the hard work of students. The campaign was the result of our Intersectional Feminist Society and KCL Sexpression pushing the Union and the University to take sexual harassment as a serious issue (especially in light of the NUS report that revealed the shocking statistic that 1 in 4 students had experienced harassment during their time at university).

Secondly, we have to consider the role of NUS (and in particular the NUS Women’s Officer, Susuana Amoah) for bringing issues of consent and harassment into the limelight. The simple fact is the poor quality of education concerning consent and relationships at secondary schools is having a profound impact on students later on in life when they join university; they do not understand the importance of consent, or even harassment itself. It is thus our responsibility to ensure that our universities are providing the necessary education (but also disciplinary actions) to ensure that students are made aware of their behaviours.

Over my past two years at King’s, I realised that student campaigns were often limited in their impact because they targeted specific sectors of the student body; in particular those involved with student politics. My decision to put out a call for ‘ambassadors’ or ‘representatives’ for the campaign was thus an attempt to reach out to ‘every day’ students who weren’t necessarily involved with the students’ union.

What sort of things do student ambassadors do?

The role of a student ambassador is quite simple. They’re involved with interacting with societies and ensuring we get student engagement. This has ranged from delivering consent workshops to the International Institutes, to delivering presentations about the campaign to Freshers. Chiefly, they are responsible for co-ordinating events with societies on their respective campuses. We have a total of four main campuses, and as a result I split the ambassadors into separate teams (‘Guy’s Team’, ‘Strand Team’ and so forth). These teams work closely with each other to sort out the logistics of an event; from room bookings, to advertising, to appearing on various media outlets to promote the campaign. Let me give you the example of our Strand Campus co-head, Cary Monz, she’s worked with the KCL Rugby society to host a Touch Rugby Fundraiser, appeared on a BBC Trending clip, and worked with members of the Strand team to ensure that there is high level of student participation.

How useful have you found having a campaign which both the students' union and the university are a part of? 

One of the best things about having both the university and the union pledge their support for the campaign is responsibility; the ability to hold both bodies to account if they aren’t pulling their weight. This may sound slightly sneaky, but it’s a great way to get what you (students) want: play the university and the union against each other. If one commits to something (e.g. training frontline staff), then you can hold the other body to account for not having done the same, or not doing as much. Furthermore, it means both bodies are willing to put in the effort – neither wants to look bad.

I want to make it very clear; this campaign would not exist if it were not for the financial backing of the university. However, I can’t downplay the efforts of our student body, and the NUS Women’s Officer Susuana Amoah in making the university take notice of one of the most pertinent issues facing the student body. It is because of this unrelenting pressure from student societies and organisations like the NUS that universities around the country (like King’s College London) have begun to prioritise student welfare and safety.

The campaign has taken a long time to get to this stage. Preceding women’s officers Rachel Williams and Shanice McBean (with her ‘draw your own lines’) campaign had been campaigning for the university and the union to take notice for a very long time. This campaign is therefore the result of three generations of women’s officers demanding that action be taken.

What external organisations are involved in the campaign?

I was contacted by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in early September about a potential collaboration for Islamophobia Awareness Month. As a result we organised a collaborative event with FOSIS, KCL Isoc, and iFemSoc entitled ‘Muslim Women in the West’ which brought to light the harassment of ‘visibly’ Muslim Women in the West in light of the rising levels of Islamophobia. The event had such a huge turnout that we had to relocate to another room. I had booked a room with a capacity of less than 80 people, but on the day over 140 people turned up and we had Al Jazeera cover the event. Because of the extraordinary response and engagement, I have been talking to Yusuf Hassan from FOSIS about future collaborations so do keep a lookout this January!

What impact has the campaign had? 

A much bigger impact than I had anticipated. In fact, a representative from the university met with me last week, and asked whether I would be willing to work for the university to put together a toolkit for staff member on student engagement (I said yes, they were paying me after all). The fact that the university decided to allocate further funding to the campaign is not only a testament to the university’s commitment to addressing sexual harassment, but clearly indicates that we are doing something right. In this meeting, the staff member also confirmed that there has been an increase in the number of students and staff reporting cases of harassment: it’s nice to know that people have enough faith in the system to report.

We’ve had a host of societies taking the pledge against sexual harassment and supporting the campaign, including GKT Football, King’s Rugby, ThinkMental, iFemSoc, LGTB+ Soc, Tamil Soc, the IoPPN, Medical Students Association, Nursing and Midwifery Soc, GKT Rugby and more. If you look online, you’ll notice that some 1,000 people (students and staff) have taken the pledge, we have over 700 likes on our Facebook (within the space of two months or so), and some of our posts reach up to 3,000 people.

Furthermore, we’ve been featured on various media outlets, from Buzzfeed, to the HuffingtonPost, to BBC Trending. We’ve been mentioned by external student media groups including LSE’s student newspaper ‘The Beaver’.

What are your future plans for It Stops Here? 

We’ve got quite a few things in mind in terms of the campaign. Firstly, I am passing two respective motions in Council to ensure that our Union provided a financial commitment to the campaign, and that the Union deliver consent workshops as part of Presidents and Treasurers training – ensuring we have student from the very top (student leaders).

Secondly, we’re hosting a two-week set of fundraisers at Strand Campus and Waterloo (first week), and Guy’s Campus (second week). The proceeds of the fundraisers will be used to source external volunteers from a Rape Crisis Centre in London to facilitate support groups for survivors at King’s. Furthermore, some of the proceeds will be directed towards the Tamil Community Centre in Hounslow which provides specialist care for the Tamil community, but are being forced out of the building from which they operate. I think it’s crucial to support these small centres, because of the lack of welfare provisions afforded to them in the first place.

On the university’s end, I have managed to convince them to commit to providing additional funds for our January and February events. I am currently also in talks with the university to roll out consent workshops for Fresher inductions. The aim of the workshops will be twofold: to make up for the poor quality of sex education at colleges and secondary schools, and to raise awareness of the support services available at King’s and in London.

How Can Other SUs find out more about It Stops Here?

It’s as simple as going onto our website blogs.kcl.ac.uk/itstopshere, or following us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Alternatively, you can choose to contact us on kclitstopshere@gmail.com or me personally on hareemghanii@gmail.com

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