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There have been few moments during my time at university that I haven’t felt safe, whether on campus or in the town centre. It’s true I’m not necessarily a party animal, staying out until the early hours of the morning or experiencing a drunken bar crawl (though, as I’m sure my friends will agree, that would certainly be a sight to behold). However, there have been occasions where I have found myself alone, both on campus and in town, at night time, perhaps a little intimidated by large groups or loud characters. There was an occasion recently where I left a house party early, walking to the bus station at around 11pm. In the bus station, a man whose accent I can only describe as sounding like Italian, began tugging at another girl, insisting that she was Lady Gaga and announcing his suspicion to the entire bus station.
The suggestion that Lancaster is inherently unsafe, however, is not particularly tenable. VP (Welfare and Development) Mia Scott recently commented, in a response to a question about homophobia and sexism on campus, that Lancaster being safe is a myth. However, it very much depends on what you consider ‘safe’ to actually mean – whether safety is a concept relating to physical safety or, something more ambiguous: mental safety and security. There is little evidence to suggest that physical safety on campus is a myth. Crime rates for Lancaster University are considered low according to UK Crime Stats, and crime in the city is considered average compared to the rest of Lancashire by Lancashire Gov. There have admittedly been high-profile incidents of sexual violence over the past couple of years, but on the whole the vast majority of us would concur that Lancaster is a safe campus.
What Scott has highlighted, however, is the suggestion that Lancaster University is standing out, in a negative way, for its homophobia and sexism on campus. This is too often brushed under the term ‘lad culture’ or ‘banter’ and would imply that Lancaster is not a straightforwardly safe campus. The problem is, however, that laddism is not unique to Lancaster University, and singling our campus out as unsafe for students is, I think, particularly unfair.
Whilst Scott’s campaigns are commendable in raising awareness about these issues, as well as recent policies such as no lads mags being sold in LUSU stores, the issue is much more widespread, and to try to tackle the problem solely on a campus-wide level is a little naive. The nature of our globalised planet – through social media and news channels – necessarily means that we are exposed to all sorts of opinions and unfortunately, whether consciously or not, we may be susceptible to opinions which perpetuate offensive views. Both FemSoc and LGBTQ* have popular, high profiles on campus, and in conjunction with greater awareness I think denouncing Lancaster as an unsafe campus is a somewhat pessimistic view.
The problem is much larger than one students’ union can handle; there is no denying that, as hard as this may be to take, society in Britain is still very much riddled with homophobia and sexism. However, so long as Lancaster does what it can in tackling such issues – which, I believe, it is on the way to achieving – then there is little value in dubbing campus as unsafe. With intake and application numbers struggling as it is, there is no point being further detrimental to Lancaster University’s reputation.
Lancaster is such a multicultural and diverse student population, encompassing all sexualities and gender assignments. Perhaps I am naive in my experience, but very few of the people I have encountered have suffered any lasting negative or offensive abuse from others. The positives that we can take from Mia Scott’s comments, however, is that the issue of a minority suffering from homophobic or sexist abuse is not only an issue which we are aware of, but an issue which we are constantly trying to tackle – not just as a single students’ union in a single university, but across the country.