Learning lessons from third level sexual harassment
Do higher education institutions have a specific problem with bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, and what can be done to limit the likelihood of this happening, given the problems related to the same problem in the society in general?
It’s a bit of a tester, and not just limited to sociology or law students. thesent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to nearly two dozen third-tier colleges and universities requesting the prevalence of allegations of bullying, bullying and harassment.
These showed that cases are or have been investigated in the past two years and that the move to remote learning has not made the problems go away. There was evidence that technology can facilitate unwanted and unacceptable behavior between peers, students and staff.
Last December, this newspaper reported that authorities at University College Dublin had received 28 complaints of harassment or bullying, including seven allegations of sexual harassment, since the start of 2020.
The only other university with a similar level of sexual harassment allegations is Trinity College Dublin, with seven cases reported since the start of 2020 involving students, and another in which someone outside the college allegedly sexually harassed a staff member. staff.
News of the relatively high rate of reported allegations at UCD was welcomed by Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, assistant professor at the UCD School of Mathematics and Statistics. She had gone public with her experiences in college, after enduring two years of bullying and bullying at work.
She then said she reported the incidents to university authorities at an early stage and later received a written apology from UCD President Professor Andrew Deeks.
Of the data revealed by FOI, she said: “The purpose of my posting was to highlight that this was a problem.”
Assistant Professor Ní Shúilleabháin, who was invited to the UCD’s Dignity and Respect Committee last year, said: “I would be comforted, in a strange way, by these numbers because I think it means people show up.
Others agree. Professor Louise Crowley is a senior lecturer in family law at University College Cork and also runs the witness intervention programme. Available to students and staff, it attempts to highlight the danger of normalizing and accepting abusive behavior, and to help those entering the program understand their ability to step in as ‘pro-social bystanders’. .
Professor Crowley believes we are now at “a point” where the focus is on addressing issues of gender-based violence and harassment, and that UCD has been one of the universities leading the way . For her, the “real gamechanger” was the April 2019 launch of the National Framework for Sexual Harassment and Violence that required colleges to be proactive about these issues.
“We are now in a new landscape where institutions have formal and non-formal reporting systems side by side and student supports and training more available and visible, and much more likely to spot unacceptable behavior,” he said. she declared.
Challenges remain, including balancing the rights of the complainant and those of an alleged perpetrator, and funding programs to train and educate third-level people, both staff and students, to create a safer environment.
This is also an issue on which the government is committed. Last January, ministers Helen McEntee and Simon Harris launched an online sexual consent centre, focusing on the third tier – a day after the Higher Education Authority published the results of an extensive survey of people attending and working in colleges.
It found that more than half of respondents had experienced examples of sexual harassment, such as repeatedly telling offensive sexual stories or jokes (54%), unwelcome attempts to be drawn into a discussion about sexual questions (58%) or offensive remarks about appearance. , the body or sexual activities (57%).
With regard to UCC, two cases of sexual harassment have been investigated since the start of 2020 – one staff member against staff and another where a student allegedly harassed a staff member. Along with this are three allegations of bullying between staff and staff and one of bullying by a student against a staff member. Of these six allegations, the university said all related to the period before the pandemic; an investigation was conducted and the complaint was dismissed.
The numbers are similar and do not necessarily follow a trend at many other colleges. For example, at the University of Limerick, four cases of bullying and harassment have been notified since the start of 2020 – three involving electronic means and each involving a student making a complaint against another student.
As if to describe the role of online involvement in some cases, at NUI Galway there have been 20 complaints of alleged bullying or harassment over the past two years, 16 of which in 2021, and 18 involved electronic means . Of the 16 complaints filed last year, 13 were described as “online bullying/harassment/sexual harassment”, all involving students making allegations against other students, while a separate case was described as harassment sexual, involving “student/staff”. Sanctions were applied in 10 cases last year.
Professor Crowley sees the prevalence of online harassment – something likely exacerbated by the shift to online learning during the pandemic – and the survey results released by the HEA in January as an indication of the work that remains to be done , but she thinks the sector has tackled the issues head-on and the work done could be applied more widely in society.
But requests for spectator training from schools and workplaces poured in.
“We can be the sector that shows the way forward for other sectors and other industries,” she added.
Maybe there is an answer to this question after all.