Having worked in Universities in both the United States and in the UK, I know that as well as places of learning, they are places were activism flourishes. The passion and selflessness on display from many students extends to many issues, that often impacts negatively on wider society. The coming together of active and young minds is a fabulous asset that often benefits us all.
It is clear however that on occasions, these passions and beliefs fail to recognise that not all of those attending these settings are ready for change or indeed want to. Whilst the issues debated are important ones, we often, simply expect others to see our viewpoints immediately and without question. On occasions this presents conflict, and whilst part of any transformational journey, conflict can create a culture of pushback and some resentment.
A transformational journey on any subject requires the right space to be created. A space that both feels safe and supportive. Safe, to allow you to share your views and supportive to allow these views to be heard and debated.
Sexual and Domestic Violence are current issues that many further education settings are coming to terms with. In the past many Colleges and Universities have failed to properly equip staff and students with the awareness and the skills to help build a university where victims will be supported and importantly perpetrators know that their behaviour will not be tolerated. On occasions this gap has been filled by local groups doing what they can to do to keep these issues as a priority. Without coordination and support from the university pushback against these groups has been inevitable.
In Scotland this debate has been ongoing for a number of years now. It’s pleasing to see many Scottish Universities working hard to ‘take a grip’ of these issues in a way that will contribute towards the overall student experience and bring success both for the student and the institution.
Over the next few weeks I will be speaking with many hundreds of Scottish Students on a topic I feel passionate about. A subject that I initially didn’t think I had a role to help prevent. I don’t abuse. Surely that was enough. With the help of many knowledgeable mentors the invisible become visible to me. My aim over the coming weeks is to make use of this opportunity to help others see these issues from a different perspective.
My aim with these students will be to look at these issues through a lens of leadership. As well as raising awareness on these issues I plan to create conversations that will simply ask “What can I do to support friends and other students?” In many cases this will involve supporting a person who may have been a victim of abuse. In others it will involve confronting a friend or fellow student who may be behaving in a problematic way.
The students I will be working with will come from different parts of their university set-up. Many will be those who will perform in the role of a resident’s assistant. It’s clear they have a critical role within their university accommodation buildings. In fact, they are in a unique position to be that first responder to a student who chooses to disclose a sexual assault or rape. Increased awareness and some basic tools will allow them to be that friend we would all want if something happened to any one of us or to a person we care about. As they say in my old profession ‘Every Contact Leaves a trace’. For these students this is very true.
I will also be working with sports captains and presidents as well as Clubs and Association presidents and secretaries. These students also find themselves in unique positions. We know that it is the sports teams and clubs that often generate bad news stories that can tarnish a universities reputation. My focus will be on their leadership and how they can be leaders in their clubs and teams that will support university values. It’s clear that any distraction away from the field of play can easily become a distraction on the field. Leaders create the mood music for their team. For me a leader who has the knowledge on these issues can help prevent them in the first place.
I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to speak with such a large number of students. In any institution there is likely to be a tipping point where attitudes can be changed and a population feeling empowered. As I’ve said on many previous occasions, prevention, for me is akin to a dripping tap. Put a glass under the tap and the glass will eventually fill up and then overflow. The leadership being shown in the universities I’m working with will allow their own glasses to both fill and overflow.
That can only be good for all of us.