Organisations likes Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK (UUK), and AdvanceHE along with charities and governing bodies, thinktanks, and public interest groups, have provided a wealth of evidence and information regarding harmful behaviours students experience from other students, staff and third parties. Much of this guidance details ways universities can engage meaningfully to tackle these issues and promote positive student experiences.
Most recently, in April 2021, OfS published its statement of expectations on steps Universities should take to tackle harassment and sexual misconduct. Point 4 (of 7) in the statement specifically directs Universities to “implement adequate and effective staff and student training with the purpose of raising awareness of and preventing harassment and sexual misconduct” (pg. 5).
In 2019, UCL was one of the HE respondents to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on tackling racial harassment in H.E. institutions (see also the survey findings of this report). The report highlighted that “racial harassment is a common experience for a wide range of students and staff with 20% of students being physically attacked, and 56% of students who had been racially harassed had experienced racist name-calling, insults and jokes.” It added that “most of these incidents are perpetuated by other students” (pg. 6).
The UK government’s plan for tackling hate crime- Action against hate, launched in 2016, highlighted the widespread hate-crimes (including online) against people of ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT+ community as well as disabled people. It emphasised on early sensitization among young people including school, colleges, and University going students to build awareness as the foundation to tackle hate-crimes. A report produced by Durham University on a survey of hate-crimes in universities highlighted that “the highest percentage of experiencing unwanted behaviour were those identifying as having a disability (45%) and those identifying as transgender, non-binary or ‘other’ gender (38%). Those participants identifying as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and ‘in religion’ reported unwanted behaviour at similar levels, 30% and 29% respectively” (pg. 8). A report by National Union of Students (NUS) in 2014 'education beyond straight and narrow' found that 1 in 5 LGBT students has experienced bullying and harassment in their universities, and the figures rise to 1 in 3 for Trans students.
Community Security Trust (CST) in its 2018-20 report on antisemitism on campuses in Britain noted that 41% of antisemitic harassment and hate-crimes were online. Similarly, a rise in hate-crimes against people of Asian and European heritage have been noted in press and academic studies during the pandemic and post-Brexit (See news article in Guardian, and Vice, for example; and Uni. Of Nottingham working paper on post-Brexit hate crimes). Online media has been a rife spot for such harassment, especially on student confession pages (UCLove on Facebook) and online socialising networks like Unitu, WhatsApp etc.
UUK has produced impactful research emphasising on the need of culture change in universities. A 2019 report on initiations in Universities highlights that “excessive alcohol consumption, substance misuse, bullying, harassment and power inequality, often used as means to coerce participation in challenges and other risky behaviours designed to humiliate, and sexualised behaviour are the known dangerous activities associated with initiation” (pg 12). Further, it highlights that the extent and exact nature of initiations remains unknown as these are prohibited by university policies and thus, remain covert including now through online media. (Note: SU UCL prohibits any form of initiation by its clubs & societies though it is anecdotally known to occur still. UCL men’s rugby club was disaffiliated in Dec. 2018 due to such initiations (further read a student experience article on Pi (student) media).
NUS has previously noted the prevalence of ‘lad culture’ defined as ‘a group or pack mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption and ‘banter’ which is sexist, misogynist, or homophobic’ in a report 'that's what she said' published in 2012 as an influencing factor in student experience of both those who engage in it and are at a receiving end of such a behaviour.
The governing body for HE sports in UK- British Universities and Colleges Sport's ‘Take a Stand’ initiative acknowledges an exclusionary environment within sports clubs. A Survey in 2016 by the alcohol education charity Drinkaware, found that 54% of 18 to 24-year-old female students experienced sexual harassment on nights out. Of these women, half said that this is experienced most or every time they go out. 15% of male students also said they have experienced sexual harassment on a night out.
An earlier UUK report in 2016 examining violence against women, harassment and hate crime affecting university students noted the widespread nature of harassment and bullying faced by students with different protected characteristics and highlighted the need to “ensure that partnership agreements between the student and the university highlight up-front the behaviours that are expected from all students as part of the university community, set out disciplinary sanctions and state the university’s commitment to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of students” in their prevention guidance (pg. 58).
Harm network, in partnership with Uni. Of Central Lancashire, in their guidance to Universities on Domestic violence, note that around 162,073 university students experience domestic abuse annually with more women students suffering it than men, and the need to build awareness and de-stigmatisation within university policies, especially in the context of online abuse.