Every autumn as returning students come back to campus and new students arrive, we start to hear the sexist horror stories of the way that university and college social spaces demand specific types of behaviour from students in order to participate in student life. This year has been no exception. The Everyday Sexism Project uncovered the latest disturbing practices in Fresher’s Week, and of course the usual raft of news stories about initiations.
These stories are incredibly disturbing for me. This is not because I find a sexualised environment to be an inherently bad thing, but because participation specifically for women within this culture requires women to accept a weakened position in relation to their male counterparts. It’s demanded that women reinforce their own inequality to gain status within such a culture. It worries me when what is ‘masculine’ or male is seen as the default, and a womens’ value within such a culture can only come from their sexuality and how closely they mimic what is considered ‘ideal’. I worry about the way women students are impacted at such a formative time in their lives, but also because I wonder what responsibility we as members of the student movement have to stand up against the ‘lad culture’ that seems to have infiltrated our campuses.
What is the nature of this new culture on our campuses? What impact is it having on women students? How does lad culture even function on campus, in the midst of equality policies and values-driven students’ unions? We don’t know! We’ve seen the headlines, but we haven’t systematically examined what is going on and how women students feel about it.
With this in mind, NUS has commissioned a piece of independent research into lad culture on campus and the experiences of women students. Researchers at the University of Sussex are conducting a comprehensive literature review and will be holding focus groups and interviews across the UK. They will report their findings to us in the spring, after which we will get to work figuring out how we can seek to make improvements for any issues they uncover.
This is a project about considering how the whole student movement can respond positively to a culture that is at odds with our values, while ensuring that we aren’t creating false divides. We’ve asked the researchers to look specifically at women students, while knowing their findings may have implications for a whole range of students.
Although I know there’s a possibility that the findings of the research could reveal a dismal picture, I am a strong believer in identifying the real issues and taking an evidence led approach is the first step to empower student officers in tackling problems on campuses. Keep an eye out in the spring for the results!
To learn more or get involved with the research, visit the researcher’s website at http://ladcultureresearch.wordpress.com/.