Dear staff, students, and Principal of the University of Strathclyde,
This is an open letter. I am writing this because of years of systemic failure to address sexist culture at Strathclyde. It is up to us to change it and the time is now.
Around a month before I started my job as the Vice President of Inclusion at Strathclyde, I met with a friend for coffee. She’d had more experience with the inner-workings of the university than me. And she told me that day that this job was going to be amazing. That I was going to help a lot of people. That this was going to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’d ever have. And going by what I’ve experienced so far, she’s right. But she also told me that I’d have to prepare myself, because Strathclyde, as an institution, is wrought with old fashioned, exclusionary ideals, that are embedded within its culture.
And I can’t lie - At this point, I didn’t believe her. My University experience had been, for the most part, overwhelmingly positive. I was in the field of thought that this was a modern university, and so surely there was no space for old-fashioned ideals. But now, as we start our 16 Days of Action Campaign, me being nearly six months into this role, I have to reflect and admit that I was wrong. I think, perhaps, I have been far too optimist.
In the first four months of me being on the job, I learned very quickly what my friend meant. Strathclyde is an old institution masquerading as one that’s “bold” and “innovative”. In my short time here I’ve witnessed female colleagues be cut over, condescended to, and made to feel lesser than - and experienced the same myself. This kind of behaviour silences and cuts down the impact of female voices in the room.I’ve watched students who have experienced sexual harassment be let down by the system the university employs. I’ve had students tell me they’ve been made to feel victimised in their own classrooms. And, crucially, I’ve seen this culture cultivated and maintained at Strathclyde, leak into student spaces. After the first Student Parliament of the year, I had a number of female students tell me that they felt as though they weren’t able to speak up for fear of being bullied into silence. This is not good enough. We can and should be doing better for our students and staff alike.
So what can we do about the culture at Strathclyde? I’ve compiled some asks that would help change our institution for the better.
First of all, I ask that Strathclyde adopt COMPASSIONATE as one of our core values. We pride ourselves on being BOLD, INNOVATIVE, COLLABORATIVE, AMBITIOUS and PEOPLE-ORIENTED. But I can’t help but feel like we sometimes forget to be compassionate - compassionate towards our vulnerable students and members of staff. Compassionate towards victims of sexual assault and harassment. Compassionate towards our colleagues.
Secondly, I ask that Strathclyde commits to closing the gender pay-gap definitively by 2025. The overall pay gap at Strathclyde sits at 20.8%. We cannot claim to be a socially progressive university until this gap is closed.
Thirdly, I ask that the new Learning and Teaching building be named after someone who is not male. The University of Strathclyde, which has 18 buildings named after people, does not have, and has never had, a building named after a woman.
I ask that staff at all levels, including executive level, are provided with comprehensive and standardised annual training in LGBT+, gender, disability and BAME comprehension, as well as bystander training.
Finally, I ask for the full implementation of the Equally Safe in Higher Education Toolkit recommendations by 2021.
For the next 16 Days, for the 16 Days of Action, an annual campaign which works to counter gender based violence, I will be releasing 16 letters from students and staff sharing their experiences with the systemic sexism ingrained within Strathclyde. I encourage everyone to share their own experiences by posting on social media with #16Days and #StrathLife.
I ask you all now to help me to make this university the forward thinking, compassionate university that I once thought it was, and know it can be. Thank you.