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Power in the academy: staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education

In 2017, the NUS Women’s Campaign paired up with The 1752 Group to work together on research into staff-student sexual misconduct in higher education. On April 3, 2018, they have produced the report titled “Power in the academy: staff sexual misconduct in UK higher education”. In it, they write,

This study collates responses from an online survey of 1839 current and former students in UK higher education, and data from four focus groups with a total of 15 students discussing professional boundaries between staff and students in higher education. This is not a prevalence study but a descriptive one, and the report does not make claims about the general level of staff sexual misconduct across students in the UK in general. Instead, this study captures the patterns of experiences of students who responded. This report uses the term ‘sexual misconduct’ to define a continuum of sexualised and predatory behaviours of staff towards students. The concept of misconduct moves beyond sexual harassment as ‘unwanted behaviour’ to address the specific nature of the power imbalance between staff and students in higher education. As well as highlighting more complex notions of consent, the term ‘sexual misconduct’ enables this study to draw attention to seemingly lower level, boundary-blurring behaviours by staff.

Link for the full report.

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EPW Engage on Power and Relationships in Academia

From EPW Engage:

An avalanche of voices accusing powerful men of sexual harassment has forced us to rethink the spaces we inhabit. The outpour has reiterated two characteristics of harassment at the workplace: its pervasiveness and its invisibility. In the Indian context, a Facebook post listing prominent academicians as alleged sexual harassers prompted a heated debate about the ethics of reporting harassment, amidst the inadequacy of institutional redressal mechanisms.

Harassment of any kind in academic spaces cannot be addressed without unpacking the structures which construct authority, including ideas of academic excellence and reputation. Patriarchy may not always manifest itself as visible harassment, but may often be intertwined with everyday friendship, mentorship, networking, and political camaraderie.

With this feature, EPW Engage aims to encourage conversations on the structure of power and relationships in academia. This is an ongoing project and this page will be updated to include new submissions. We look forward to your contributions.

With contributions from Gita Chadha, Rukmini Sen,  Leena Pujari, Varsha Ayyar Niharika Banerjea, Monica Sakhrani, and Drishadwati Bargi, we hope the conversations will continue on EPW Engage, and intersect with the conversations here on the ARCP special issue of Sex and Power in the University.

Call for Papers

This is a call for papers to all women, trans-folk, and gender non-conformists to look at the questions surrounding sexual violence in the university again, yet again. We welcome submissions that are interdisciplinary or non-disciplinary, from perspectives that span the humanities and social sciences such as gender and sexuality studies, literary theory, critical theory, postcolonial studies, law, sociology, psychoanalysis, psychology, etc. We solicit papers up to 5000 words that are theoretical, conceptual, personal, and/or empirical on a wide range of topics relating to Sex and Power in the University including but not limited to the following:

  • Feminist critique of the space of the university
  • Gendered relations to knowledge
  • Intellectual aggression and achievement
  • Care, co-operation and transformative knowledge
  • Transparency and accountability in the university
  • Staff-Student relations and the idea of “consent”
  • Rethinking Mentorship/Supervision
  • Sexual violence in/of the Academy
  • Complaint as discourse
  • Killjoy politics
  • Women, Dalit, LGBTQ, BAME: (Re)Thinking Privilege

LAST DATE FOR SUBMISSION OF PAPERS: JANUARY 31, 2018

Concept Note

In present times, there has been an increasing awareness of the prevalence of violence in universities all over the world. We contend that this violence, as if inseparable from the university, demonstrates that the inequalities of society are perfectly duplicated in the structures of the university. Access and entry to the university is restricted and highly competitive, but for those who already occupy marginal positions in society to make it in is just the beginning of the struggle. From a feminist standpoint, the challenge is the rampant cis-hetero-sexism that would seem to be built into the very foundations of the university. The university is a space populated largely by upper-caste able cis bodies. The problem is more than those very few men who are brought to “justice” for their sexual crimes against women through internal university-based committees or external legal and police mechanisms. Here we must consider that inside the university, case after case of sexual violence filed against the learned man of high positions not only exonerate the majority of them, but systematically victimize the women who found the courage and fortitude to speak up.

How do we understand the justice that is meted out in the few cases of fair proceedings in the face of the many that will never even see the light of day? Can justice for some be justice at all? If we are to fight sexual violence in the university, how do women and trans folk position themselves against the hegemony of the established cis-hetero-sexism of the university?

To compound the challenge further, we need to remind ourselves that as women and trans folk entering the university often means that, in the hunger for knowledge, we forget what is taught to us is already gendered against us. To succeed in the university often implies that we have to go against the grain of our own ways of making meaning in the world, think of our experiences as less important than what is taught in the classroom. We think against ourselves; to succeed in academia is to successfully uphold the masculine principles that build the very grounds of the university. As university-bred feminists, our greed for knowledge is driven by a certain masculine impulse to conquer, the impulse of colonialism passed down to us by the intellectual aggression cultivated in the space of the university.