Sorry to burst your safe bubble

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I was extremely shocked and saddened by the recent article in this week’s edition of SCAN [released Monday Week 6], which attempted to argue that my quote claiming that Lancaster being safe is a mythical concept was itself “naïve” and also “unfair” to the University’s reputation. To start with, I thought it might be a very early April fool’s article. Sadly, I soon learned I was wrong, and we do in fact have students here who hold the belief that Lancaster is safe because lots of other universities have it worse than we do. I’m going to explain why these views are misguided.

To begin, I want to address what is meant by the word “safe.” Safe refers to protecting someone or preventing exposure to danger or risk. In my quote used in last week’s article, I used it as a term which encompasses physical, psychological and emotional safety on campus. These are very much interconnected, so it would be wrong to treat them as separate entities. Also, Alison Phipps and Isobel Young found that sexism and homophobia were defined by students as  “a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.” What I was referring to in my quote is that these “packs” of students (regardless of their identity) ganging up on an individual student (regardless of their identity) happens in Lancaster. Is that really “safe?”

Crime rates are all well and good, but dishing out statistics around crimes that have been reported to the police leaves you ignorant to the number of incidents that go unreported. Victims have a choice. Some choose to speak to their Union, to their department, their colleges, or to a friend or family member. Some choose not to tell anyone due to the stigma surrounding these crimes. They don’t always want to deal with the police. It is pretty naïve to accept the crime statistics as a realistic reflection of what is actually happening in society.

As for the reputation of the University, I’m paid to hold them to account, and I refuse to brush these issues under the carpet and smile sweetly whilst some of the students I represent are suffering. I suppose it’s about what you see as being a priority, and for me a student’s welfare comes way before the reputation of a well-established university. A university’s reputation is no doubt to be enhanced, if it does what it can to enhance students’ wellbeing. This is not in terms of crude metrics like the NSS, but in terms of students’ individual attainments.

My eight months as VP (Welfare and Community) have really opened my eyes to the harassment and abuse experienced by some students on our campus and in Lancaster. Yes, we might not have it as bad as some larger cities, but we still have a problem nonetheless. NUS research shows that one in seven women experience serious sexual assault whilst in education, so to say that Lancaster is excluded from that is extremely damaging to the women who experience it. Also, 50 per cent of participants involved in this NUS research identified “prevailing sexism, laddism and a culture of harassment” at their universities. Are we really naïve enough to believe that Lancaster is somehow an exception to this finding? I do not think so.

If you are someone who is privileged and lucky enough to not have experienced any harassment or abuse, and who honestly believes that we don’t have an issue here in Lancaster, I urge you to open your eyes and your minds and listen to your peers. I receive complaints every week about abuse and harassment relating to gender, identity, sexuality, race and more. I don’t make sweeping statements about safety based on no evidence. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean for this information to frighten anyone or deter them from attending Lancaster University, but we must wake up and notice this reality and begin to challenge it. If your Students’ Union isn’t going to do this, who will?

Articles such as the one I am referring to that revolve around one person’s experience are extremely unhelpful, regressive and in many ways damaging to the victims here in Lancaster who have experienced things like sexism, laddish behaviour, homophobia, transphobia and otherwise. They begin to be the cause of stigma and are only going to prevent more people from coming forward should they need help.

Now, do we still believe it is me who is the naïve one here?

NUS research referred to in this article can be found here.

Mia Scott is VP (Welfare and Community) of the Students’ Union. 

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