Felicia Gutmans interviews Women’s Officer, Natalie James, to find out more about Zero Tolerance at UCL
Any UCL student that has joined a UCLU society (or has considered doing so and wrote their e-mails down on a thousand society mailing lists at freshers’ fair) is familiar with that badge. The one that declares that the society in question has signed the Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment Pledge. “Ah,” you think, browsing the UCLU website debating whether that membership is really worth £10, “That’s good”. But what exactly does it mean?
Sexual Harassment is a huge issue within universities throughout the UK: 31% of female and 12% of male students will have been victims of sexual harassment by the time they leave university. According to a National Union of Students study, the number of students subjected to unwanted sexual advances is 1 in 4. So, how is UCL tackling this pressing issue?
UCL first adopted the Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment policy in December 2012. In September 2014, the UCLU Women’s officer launched a Zero Tolerance Pledge that was signed by 160 UCLU clubs and societies. A number of developments have occurred since then in terms of preventing and stopping sexual harassment at UCL but perhaps the most notable among them has been the development of the Zero Tolerance Workshops. This year, a representative of each UCLU club/society who sought to earn or keep their Zero Tolerance badge had to actively participate in an hour-long workshop about sexual harassment.
Natalie James, Women’s Officer at UCL, has been at the forefront of this development. I interviewed her to find out more about the Zero Tolerance Workshops and what they aim to do.
FG: Hi Natalie. Could you tell us a little more about the Zero Tolerance Workshops and how they function?
NJ: They are designed for groups of up to 30 students. During the workshops, we discuss what sexual harassment is, why certain behaviours are sexual harassment and what students can do when they see harassment happening. We also provide them with information on how UCL and UCLU deal with harassment. The aim is to get students thinking and talking about what behaviours are appropriate and about how they can intervene in situations if they need to.
FG: That’s great. How do you think the workshops have raised, or will raise, awareness against sexual harassment at UCL?
NJ: By getting students to think about and discuss what harassment actually is, and talking about how anyone can be either a perpetrator or target of harassment. There have been several students in sessions who have talked about their own experiences, only realising with hindsight that an interaction was actually harassment.
FG: How did the idea to make these workshops come about?
NJ: They were developed last year by the previous Women’s Officer, Annie Tidbury, who gave variations of them out to Club & Society Presidents, UCLU staff and other students. I think they’re really fantastic because they are a space where we can talk about what harassment is – and other peripheral issues, like consent – whilst also being able to give concrete advice to students about how they can help challenge these behaviours and make change in their daily lives.
FG: Do you think there is a problem of “everyday” sexual harassment, that goes unreported as people do not always recognise when it is a problem?
NJ: Absolutely. I think many people do recognise harassment as a problem when they see it – sexual harassment can be very unpleasant, both to experience and to witness – but it’s really hard to know what you can do in to challenge those behaviours. And so, a lot of people do nothing when they see it happening. This, in turn, normalises the behaviour – and when no one else speaks out against a problem, it makes it more difficult for you to do so yourself, because this lack of action can make it appear as if no one really cares.
FG: It does seem like the extra education about sexual harassment has been much needed then. What kind of responses have you had at the end of the workshops?
NJ: The majority of feedback is incredibly positive – lots of people are really pleased to see that UCL is actively trying to tackle sexual harassment and a lot of people have commented on how helpful they feel the workshops have been. One guy even stopped me outside Phineas to thank me one evening as I was leaving work, which was a bit of a weird experience, but it’s really nice to know that people remember and appreciate the workshops.
We are very lucky that there have been so many measures taken to prevent and condemn sexual harassment at UCL but there is still a long way to go before we can eradicate it completely. The university’s Zero Tolerance Policy is one that cannot be stressed enough, so if you would like to read more about it, all the information is on the UCLU website. Likewise, if you, or any of your friends or peers are unsure about whether you have been a victim of harassment or how to proceed after having been harassed, you can find more details about what to do here.
Featured image: UCLU