DSU President criticises “damaging culture” of sexism towards student representatives and staff

By Anna Tatham

Durham Students’ Union President, Megan Croll, has criticised “unacceptable behaviour” towards student representatives, including sexist comments about “getting our bikinis out in this weather” and winking from senior University staff.

In her final report to University Council, Croll highlights that many female University staff, including herself, have described identical experiences of sexism, each of which are “regrettable but preventable”.

Croll said: “Women in particular have been dismissed as naïve and singled out for criticism in ways that have not been applied to men.

“The examples shared with the Vice-Chancellor, and in direct feedback to colleagues who have demonstrated unacceptable behaviour, are challenges to living our University values and characteristics.”

We are frequently patronised and spoken down to. This treatment often has very sexist roots

Croll expressed that change should be instigated by those with leadership roles, including the governors and the Executive Council.

She said: “It would be unreasonable to expect the driver for change to start in students, who are often volunteers and always have less experience and power in University spaces.”

While Croll describes her own experience with University Council as “positive”, she expressed “there is often a huge air of mistrust for student reps.

“We have papers kept from us, unnecessarily; we have our ideas dismissed; and we are frequently patronised and spoken down to. This treatment often has very sexist roots.”

“What we do expect is to be respected and treated like equals, and for our contributions to be genuinely considered.

“Only when student representatives are treated in this way can Durham University claim to be committed to a culture of open and effective student consultation.”

The report was discussed at Council for around 40 minutes, and Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor assured members that serious attention would be given to the concerns raised.

Speaking to Palatinate, Megan Croll said: “I chose to highlight the issue because it has been a long-running theme throughout the terms of many student officers, and once I started to mention it to other people around the university I realised that it was a vein that ran from the student reps at the bottom of the hierarchy, right up to the university executive.

“Durham is trying to improve its diversity and it’s never going to achieve that unless it addresses the damaging culture that is causing women staff to leave this university at a consistently higher rate than men do.

“It isn’t just sexism that’s a problem, we frequently see problems in the student body of classism and racism, neither of which are at all all good for the student experience or university’s reputation, and I believe a lot of this stems from a culture at Durham that has been present for a long time and needs to change. I’m glad the university has been receptive to this.”

Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor, Stuart Corbridge, said: “The issues raised by Megan are extremely concerning and I take them very seriously.

“I will shortly be inviting Durham SU and other non-Executive stakeholders to lead a programme of work over the summer and into the next academic year that will advise Council on how best we can address these issues, including those at Executive level, and more deeply embed the culture of respect that we all want at Durham University.”

Croll’s report praised the successful launch of Durham Students’ Union’s anonymous online mapping tool Pincident, which records incidences of assault, violence and harassment in Durham.

Since its launch at the start of June, over 50 incidents have been submitted to the software.

Photograph: Durham Students’ Union

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