22 SES 01 D, Inclusion and Diversity in Higher Education Settings
Universities seek to provide safe and supportive environments that are conducive to excellent academic, social and welfare provision for all students. ‘Lad cultures’ potentially threaten such provision for some students, particularly some women, and are currently concerning key stakeholders. In this paper we will draw on a project funded by the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) that explored the impact of lad cultures on the student experience.
Student ‘lad culture’ has become a national issue. The phenomenon, often associated with the website Unilad, has become a catch-all term for anything from boozy boisterousness to casual misogyny and even sexual abuse. But despite numerous media reports on laddism, universities still have little idea of how widespread its effects are. (Guardian.co.uk, 05/04/2013)
Over the last 2-3 years we have witnessed in the UK a sharp increase in the number of concerns voiced about ‘laddism’, ‘laddish’ or ‘lad’ cultures in higher education (H.E). However, as signalled in the opening quote, the ways in which lad cultures are manifest in H.E., as well as the pervasiveness and effects of them, are largely unknown.
A small study commissioned by the National Union of Students (NUS) conducted by Phipps and Young (2013: 53) concluded that:
‘Lad culture’ was seen as a ‘pack’ mentality evident in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic. It was also thought to be sexualized and to involve the objectification of women, and at its extremes rape supportive attitudes and sexual harassment and violence.
Many of Phipps and Young’s findings – for example, reported instances of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, sexual harassment and violence - are a serious cause for concern. To date, the small amount of work undertaken on ‘lad cultures’ in HE has considered students’ perspectives only; no research has considered whether staff at universities consider lad culture to be a problem, or whether universities are doing anything to tackle it.
Our project explored ‘lad cultures’ in higher education (H.E.) from the perspectives of a variety of staff across six universities. Our research and analyses were informed principally by feminist theories (broadly poststructuralist), gender theories and theories of masculinities.
Drawing on the perspectives of staff at six universities, we addressed the following research questions:
In what ways are lad cultures manifest in different higher education contexts?
Are these manifestations problematic and, if so, how?
Are universities working to tackle lad cultures and, if so, how?
Does more need to be done to tackle lad cultures in H.E and, if so, what?
Phipps, A. and Young, I. (2013) That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of ‘lad culture’ in higher education. London: National Union of Students.
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