Universities told to increase diversity to tackle sexual violence

Psychologist says that more women, minority groups and international students should be part of structures that tackle sexual misconduct

September 14, 2018
Woman holding a "me too" sticker

Fostering diversity on campus is the main way that universities can prevent sexual violence, according to an expert, who said that universities must urgently review their approach to combating systematic abuse. 

Jessica Price, a professional psychologist based in Germany, who has given training and workshops to students and lecturers, said that universities must “conduct a critical review of the current policies and structures in place to deal with sexual violence” on campus.

“Seek not to reassure yourselves but find gaps and bottlenecks in the system, and address them quickly,” she said during the session “#MeToo: How Should Universities Respond to Sexual Violence on Campus?” at the European Association for International Education’s annual conference.

“There is no time to waste. Time’s up also for university leaders who have to step up to the challenge and contribute to a social change that is long overdue.”

She added that “empowering diversity and voice is the best preventive measure against a climate where systemic abuse goes unchecked”, and told universities to “bring more women, minority groups and international students into the structures that deal with sexual misconduct”.

These diverse voices should participate in policy building and the development of innovative and grass-roots initiatives on campuses to promote a community “willing to rally against inequality”, she said.

Dr Price added that the existence of cliques or groups with strong “groupthink” tendencies, such as fraternities, can contribute to sexual violence on campuses and told institutions to “address pockets of reactionary thinking”.

“Some individuals on campus might react with contempt or minimise the need for these measures. Do not ignore the potential damage that these individuals can create,” she said, adding that these types of people could “turn a blind eye when abuse happens”.  

“Seek to proactively educate and engage them. If they refuse, ask yourself whether they can still be part of a forward-thinking international institution,” she continued.

Dr Price said that it was also important for a university to be clear about the “boundaries of its role” and make students aware that it cannot necessarily carry out criminal investigations.

“It can misguide students to believe that the university has the power to penalise,” she said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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