Universities are supposed to be communities of scholars and learners but a recent National Student Safety Survey reveals an alarming picture.

  • 1/6 have experienced sexual harassment since starting university
  • Higher incidents for non-binary, transgender & women
  • 1/20 have experienced sexual assault
  • 1 in 2 knew some or all of the perpetrators involved
  • 1/30 harassed and 1/20 assaulted made a formal complaint to the university
  • 1 in 2 know nothing or very little about the formal reporting process for harassment or assault

Notably, this survey did not collect data from teachers and staff about their experiences with work-related sexual assault or harassment and this area should also be explored based on the findings from the student data.

A safe environment for learning

When choosing a university, the learning culture is generally forefront on people’s minds:

  • What is the reputation of the university?
  • What kind of on-campus experience can I expect?
  • How much research does the university perform?

An expected, and often overlooked, hygiene factor is “will I be safe on campus?” But what does that mean?

Campus culture isn’t all about the serious business of research and learning-it also comprises sports, recreation, social clubs, and socializing. These are opportunities to promote a balanced scholarly life. But sexual harassment and sexual assault by students and teachers destroys that balance. Campus culture must include values, attitudes, and behaviours that promote collegiality, wellness and safety.

Accordingly, universities should be asking themselves if their own culture provides a safe environment for staff to work and students to learn. Campus security is not responsible for building a safe culture.

Immediate Action for Universities

Universities must take immediate action to protect staff, students and all stakeholders, considering factors such as:

  • Does the university have a culture where leaders hear what needs to be heard, so all stakeholders feel confident to say what needs to be said?
  • Is the whistleblower program robust and promoted as an ethical strength of the university?
  • Is there a robust confidential platform where all stakeholders – staff, students, contractors and anyone connected to the university – can disclose wrongdoing, without facing repercussions?
  • Is the university Code of Ethics/Honour Code a mere “piece of compliance paperwork” or is it a document of value and meaning for students, staff, and teachers?
  • Is there mandatory ethics curricula and training (for everyone) with topics such as boundaries and consent, taught using interactive tools rather than a simple tick-box quiz?

Sexual harassment and sexual assault create trauma and lasting harms. Having these harms originate from houses of learning can also damage that learning process, the reputation of the university and create a toxic culture. Universities must take steps to move their culture grade from “Fail” to “Distinction.”

Talk to us about how to create inclusive, safe Listen Up, Speak Up cultures.