We should be blaming lad culture for sexual harassment on campuses, not universities

Students should be the ones taking responsibility for their behaviour

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The Independent Online

Lad culture is a perpetual blight on campus life, and NUS President Toni Pearce is rightly calling it out once more. Her intervention comes after an NUS survey found that a quarter of female students had experienced unwelcome advances, a third had been made to feel uncomfortable because of overtly sexual comments, and two-thirds had heard jokes about rape or sexual assault.

Man or woman, you can’t not be appalled by this. Take a couple of the more egregious examples from the past 18 months. At St Andrews, where in other respects I am proud to study, a charity event last February featured a challenge where the aim was to strip female volunteers to their underwear as quickly as possible. Meanwhile at Leeds University, a promotional video for an event at one of the city’s nightclubs asked: “How are you going to violate a fresher tonight?"

But where I disagree with Pearce is when she calls on universities to stop “passing the buck” and do more to confront the problem of “lad culture” on campuses.

Look at what these incidents have in common, other than being wholly deplorable: the absence of university involvement. At St Andrews it was the student organisers of Raising and Giving Week, and in Leeds it was a private business. Rarely is an actual university found to be at fault when one of these events makes the headlines.

The truth is that if we really want to tackle lad culture then it is we, the students, who must own up and do something about it. We have to face the fact that these “lads” are not some far-removed people we have never met; they are our classmates, the people we meet at the bar, perhaps our friends. We are the lads and we must take responsibility.

We need to make clear to our students’ unions, run by our elected peers, that we don’t want sexist advertising or events. The NUS survey found that over a third of students had seen promotional materials on campus featuring sexualised images of women. Half of female respondents and a third of males said these advertisements made them feel uncomfortable. If anything else were making 30-50 per cent of the student body unhappy it would be stopped immediately, so why not this?

We need to stop attending and supporting events such as those at the nightclub in Leeds. When called out, the club apologised and cancelled the event but described it as “a very popular student night, which thousands of students attend weekly”. No wonder they felt able to reopen under a different name a few months later. Most important of all, we need to stop simply accepting lad culture as just “banter”. The next time a friend cracks a joke about rape, call it out. Explain that it’s not OK, that it makes people uncomfortable. Explain that it’s not cool, or funny, or clever. Banter only works if everyone joins in.

Toni Pearce and the NUS are right to keep highlighting lad culture as a serious problem. But blaming universities is the wrong way to go about it. If we really want to stamp out lad culture then we must deal with the source: us.

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