Content Warning: Mentions Sexual Assault
Edinburgh University Students’ Association has begun the academic year with a brand-new campaign against sexual harassment and violence on campus, named #NoExcuse. It aims to “ensure those who have experienced sexual harassment and violence feel supported, and that people who witness harassment taking place feel confident to challenge it”.
Picking up where the Students’ Association’s previous campaign, No One Asks For It (NOAFI), left off, #NoExcuse also addresses some of the concerns its predecessor raised in how best to deal with such a complex issue.
NOAFI drew criticism from some who felt it did little to support victims, while further alienating them with provocative advertisements and slogans which could be potentially triggering. With this new strategy and branding, the Students’ Association has created a punchier campaign that better encompasses the university’s zero tolerance policy.
This ‘no excuse’ principle more powerfully reflects the role all members of our community hold in preventing sexual harassment and violence, whether that means direct intervention, or challenging the permissive cultural norms – like ‘changing room banter’ – that enable harassment to go unchallenged. In this way, it offers a chance to significantly change university culture and create a safer institution, now and in the future.
#NoExcuse asks students and staff to actively engage with these issues. In trying to expand its reach, it has so far offered training on bystander intervention to resident assistants and office holders in societies and sports clubs.
A 2016 report by Universities UK acknowledged the widespread extent of sexual violence on campuses nationwide, while also noting that many institutions had not done enough to tackle the problem. #NoExcuse appears to draw directly on their recommendations by implementing such training, with these techniques emphasised in the report for their ‘knock-on benefits’ across society.
Another noteworthy part of the campaign is its work with the Consent Collective. Earlier this month a series of workshops and talks took place, offering a space to discuss issues of sex, consent, gender, and relationships. An article in The Guardian rightly commended the events for their informal and inclusive approach to a weighty topic, noting the positive reception from participants (many of whom were survivors) who felt that their voices were being heard.
The Students’ Association’s #NoExcuse campaign appears to be a big step in the right direction; with its grassroots approach targeting student culture and campus life, it directly focuses on the ways sexual violence and harassment are enabled at university. With time, it might truly change the rhetoric around these problems, from how we attribute blame, the obligation of bystanders and witnesses to act, to what consent means.
That said, there is always more that can be done. For example, expanding the campaign’s focus to freshers, who are often confronting such questions for the first time as independent adults, as well as decreasing the waiting times for student counselling services. Given that a 2018 poll from Revolt Sexual Assault suggests that as many as two thirds of UK university students have experienced sexual violence or harassment on campus, this will be no short project. #NoExcuse remains a single – but important – step on the long path towards ending sexual violence and harassment.
Anyone wanting to get involved with #NoExcuse can find details on www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/noexcuse. If anyone has been affected by the issues discussed above they can contact The Advice Place for free advice.
Image: Edinburgh University Students’ Association