4 key takeaways from AMOSSHE’s ‘Harassment in higher education’ conference 2023

21st December 2023

Article written by Meg Shona Halpin-Webster, Graduate eLearning Content Writer at Marshall E-Learning Consultancy, a Ciphr company 

In December 2023, AMOSSHE, the Student Services Organisation, held a conference on ‘Harassment in higher education (HE): prevention and response’. Marshalls were glad to sponsor this event, given that we provide a wide range of HE and student-specific eLearning courses. During this conference, we heard from many leading HE institutions who discussed their own unique approaches to tackling harassment across their campuses and communities.

We learned a lot from the various speakers and representatives from leading HE institutions, and we wanted to share some of the biggest takeaways from the conference in this blog article. This particular article will focus on the issue of sexual harassment, but it’s important to recognise that racial and faith-based harassment are just as prevalent, and that efforts to educate around harassment can be mirrored for these topics.

4 key takeaways

1. Tackling harassment in HE requires a community-wide response

A study conducted by the Office for National Statistics determined that students are more likely to have experienced sexual assault than any other societal group – demonstrating the significance of tackling this problem. To enforce a community-wide response, it’s useful to define what this means. A community-wide response is a university-wide response; the university as a whole institution must effectively respond to and cohesively work towards preventing all forms of harassment within their community.

There are many benefits to taking a community-wide response to issues like harassment, including:

  • Greater transparency: all members of the university community are more likely to be in alignment with particular policies and procedures relating to harassment
  • Greater support for students and staff: the university community can together offer support and guidance for students and staff who experience, or witness, harassment
  • Greater likelihood of enacting campus change: a university-wide response drives the likelihood of impactful change, which in this case would be the reduction of harassment levels

2. Specific policies on student sexual violence are necessary

The Office for Students (OfS) recognises the detrimental impact of sexual misconduct on a student’s experience of university. The OfS outlined its own expectations for HE institutions to follow, such as “HE providers should clearly communicate, and embed across their whole organisation, their approach to preventing and responding to all forms of harassment and sexual misconduct affecting students. They should set out clearly the expectations that they have of students, staff and visitors.”

To meet the expectations of the OfS, and to also productively work towards reducing the issue of sexual misconduct, a robust sexual violence policy is necessary. Meeting expectations is not the primary advantage of implementing a sexual violence policy, it also helps to ensure awareness across your institutions about what behaviour constitutes sexual misconduct. A policy also outlines the procedures in place for responding to student disclosures of sexual violence, to ensure the best support, whilst also informing members of staff, as well as students, about the support services and resources in place.

3. Student involvement in preventing the issue is valuable

Many HE institutions are increasing student involvement when it comes to tackling issues and creating solutions across their community. In fact, the OfS encourages this – “HE providers should appropriately engage with students to develop and evaluate systems, policies and processes to address harassment and sexual misconduct.”

One significant issue in relation to harassment in HE is the distinct lack of reporting about student sexual violence. Studies conducted by Against Violence and Abuse (AVA) and NUS found that many students do not report or disclose sexual misconduct to their university or college, with 70% of current and former students surveyed either having told no one about experiencing sexual misconduct or only telling people outside of their university.

This is where student involvement comes in. By actively involving students in the creation of policies and collaborating with them on the implementation of strategies, students are more likely to feel supported enough to come forward to disclose their experiences. Collaboration with students provides them with an outlet to share their lived experiences and to guide university staff on how they can support students.

Many leading universities have begun to implement student peer support in relation to harassment across campuses, meaning that students can reach out to their peers to share their experiences, find guidance and valuable resources. Students can help to educate their peers on where to find support and offer it to others.

4. Training members for ALL staff is essential

Across HE institutions, it’s necessary for all staff members to be trained on the subject of harassment. Training on harassment not only enables staff members to better support their students, it can also ensure that staff members are aware of appropriate behaviour and what is expected of them within their role. Harassment training qualifies staff members to be a valuable support resource for students who have experienced harassment or misconduct, no matter their role.

All university staff members should undergo harassment training, from heads of department to college porter staff. For example, if a student seeks staff support in the middle of the night following an incident, it’s key that college porter staff working night shifts are able to still be a valuable resource and support system for that student.

Marshalls has a designated a sector-specific eLearning course on the subject of Sexual Harassment in HE. This accessible, informative eLearning module enables learners to do the following:

  • Know the legislation relating to harassment, including sexual harassment
  • Describe what constitutes sexual harassment
  • Understand the impact of sexual harassment
  • Be aware of the steps to take if your experience or witness sexual harassment

This eLearning resource is available off-the-shelf, with options to customise to your institution’s branding and unique policies. We also provide bespoke eLearning courses, where we build an entirely new eLearning module from the ground up on a specific topic. If you wanted to create your own HE-specific eLearning module on harassment, or wished to dive into a specific aspect of harassment, we could help you to create this.

How Marshalls can help your institution with tackling harassment

Alongside our Sexual Harassment in HE eLearning course, we also have an extensive range of student and academic-related eLearning, including:

As we look to 2024, we are anticipating updated guidance from the OfS on the subject of harassment in HE, which we will use to update all of our relevant eLearning courses to ensure they remain up-to-date.

To find out more about our available eLearning courses, or to access a 14-day free trial of any of our innovative and educational eLearning, please contact us.

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