Extent of sexism revealed at Glasgow University

Alastair Thomas

Over a third of students have been sexually harassed on campus, according to an anonymous survey carried out by the Isabella Elder Feminist Society (IEFS). 34% of students asked said that they had experienced sexual harassment while at University, with 63% of the victims saying that they did not feel able to report the harassment to a person in a position of responsibility.

The most common incidents included sexual comments or jokes, inappropriate sexual advances or assault, and being exposed to sexually explicit communications. The survey also discovered that 39% of students believe that sexism is prevalent on campus, with 45% believing lad culture was also widespread.

The survey took place between the 1st and the 31st December 2015 with 131 people taking part. The Glasgow University Union (GUU) was referenced 16 times in association to sexism, with 40% of all incidents occurring within the union. Other areas highlighted included the Queen Margaret Union (QMU), the main library and student halls.

One anonymous commenter said: “The GUU is filled with creepy guys & there is a big ‘lad culture’ scene there.­ I often don’t feel safe in the beer bar and the clubs if I’m by myself at some points if I’m on a night out.”

Another recalled “the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “man up” in the Beer Bar.” as well as “a girl who was crying on the phone on the night bus back to her halls in Freshers’ Week talking about how ‘they were all groping me'”.

One commenter said that after being sexually harassed, that they were still coming to terms with the incident: “It was during Freshers so I didn’t really know anyone. I was made to feel embarrassed and scared. I still won’t go into GUU on my own.”

The Glasgow University Rugby team was also mentioned, with one commenter saying: “When living in student halls I had some flatmates who played rugby, and they felt very strongly about their team bonding through hazing rituals, which I personally found appalling. I and some of my female flatmates once had a discussion with them about it and they tried to shut us down by saying ‘you don’t understand this because you’re women'”.

Others held different opinions on lad culture, with one person saying: “I’d argue it’s good, it gives men a space to be men” and another saying that “jokes are not sexism”.

‘Spotted: Glasgow University Library’ was also cited as a perpetrator of sexism. The survey received answers describing it as “abhorrent” and “appalingly sexist”. Another answer said that it is “one of the reasons I don’t go to the library any more to study… it’s like catcalling for people who don’t have the balls to do it out loud, all it is reminding women that they are constantly watched by men and vulnerable to judgement in public spaces. If you want to compliment someone, say it to their face.”

The Glasgow Guardian asked Fergus Greig, president of the GUU, how the Union responds to the findings of the survey, in which it comes out worse than any other student body. Greig replied: “Glasgow University Union does not tolerate prejudice in any form, however it is manifested. I want to assure all our members, their guests and any other users of the Union that the Board of Management is committed to robustly and comprehensively investigating all complaints we receive and we will ensure that where action is required, it will be taken without fear of favour.”

He continued: “In recent years we have put in place significant measures to stamp out any form of sexism, racism or other form of discrimination, and our message is clear – we will not rest until all forms of unacceptable behaviour are eliminated from our Union, and our University. The Board of Management is charged by the members to foster an environment of inclusivity and mutual respect and any actions incompatible with these values will never be tolerated.”

Asked if he believes the GUU still has a problem with sexist behaviour happening within its walls, Greig said: “It is true that the Union suffers from the perception that what has happened in the past is still present but I assure all our members that nothing could be further from the truth. All our Board members must complete the University’s equality and diversity training, we have forged strong links with groups such as GULGBTQ+, IEFS and the Good Night Out Glasgow Campaign to change this perception. The Union is also implementing vulnerable persons and sensibility training for Board Members so that they can better aid our members on club nights.

“Nonetheless, the comments made in the IEFS survey remain upsetting to the Board of Management and it is clear that there is still work to be done. I urge any person that has ever experienced any kind of unacceptable behaviour in the GUU to come and speak with me, or indeed any other Board member, in confidence if you wish, and I assure you that you will be listened to. I also remind students at Glasgow that they can, and should, raise any issues they have in the Union with the appropriate University authorities and I urge them to do this at the first opportunity.

“Let me restate: Glasgow University Union does not, and will not tolerate discrimination.”


The Glasgow Guardian also reached out to the University over its perceived lack of approachability in cases of sexual harassment. A University spokesperson said: “The University of Glasgow has a zero tolerance approach to sexism of any kind, as we do to all other forms of discrimination, and we actively encourage students who feel they have suffered from sexist behaviour to come forward and to report any such incidents to the relevant school, university service or student organisation.

“The University takes gender equality extremely seriously, and has a named gender equality champion in Professor Anne Anderson, Vice-Principal and Head of the College of Social Sciences.

“Structures and policies are in place to support both the physical and emotional wellbeing of students and to raise awareness of what students can do should they experience discrimination.

“Working very closely with students we recently launched a sexual violence strategy which links the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian University and which may be extended to other institutions. We have also been working for some time on another student-led initiative, in partnership with Police Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland

“We will carefully consider the findings of this report as part of our broader strategy to ensure that all our students have the best possible experience whilst at Glasgow.”

Ash Charlton, president of the Isabella Elder Feminist Society, told The Glasgow Guardian: “The survey really highlighted that there are some issues with sexism, sexual assault and sexual discrimination on campus that students don’t feel are being properly addressed by organisations within the University.

“As a society we hope that student bodies and societies here take the survey results seriously and take action to ensure they are providing inclusive places where students feel safe. We suggest that the SRC and the University’s Gender Equality Steering Group should conduct more comprehensive research into attitudes toward sexism at UofG to find out how issues of sexism on campus can be more effectively tackled.

“Other campus organisations such as GUU, QMU and GUSA should prioritise publicising the positive actions they have taken to provide safer spaces for students and should continue to take all possible measures to provide environments where students feel safe from any kind of discrimination. We also insist that the campus community support the ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign which is working to end sexual assault on campus to ensure student safety is a priority.”

You can read the survey results  here:
IsabellaElderFeministSocietySurveyReport (2) (1)


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