In an exciting new opportunity, Psygentra is collaborating with Leeds Beckett University on a funded Masters of Research that has been designed by Psygentra Director Dr. Lucy Thompson, and Dr. Katy Day. The research titled, 'The Personal is Structural': A Feminist Psychological Exploration of Sexual Violence in British Universities, will address the ongoing issue of sexual violence in higher education institutions in the UK, and the experiences of those who report this. Based on our expertise in the areas of feminist and organizational psychology, this research will bring the voices of survivors to the forefront of knowledge in the field, and make this central to the project of institutional transformation.
The problem of sexual violence in higher education hinges on the abuse of power by those in privileged and trusted positions, which is permitted by a culture of secrecy where sexual violence is viewed as ‘bad press’ for universities doing business in an increasingly corporatized education marketplace. In this marketplace, bad press is bad for business and institutional reputation comes to be prioritized over survivors in order to protect the university’s corporate brand. As a consequence of this institutional collaboration with capitalism, those who experience sexual violence are rendered relatively powerless against perpetrators who take advantage of their ‘untouchable’ position in this organizational culture. Not only does this culture silence people who experience sexual violence; it also fails to acknowledge how sexual assault is institutionally structured in ways that leave perpetrators unaccountable.
Using qualitative methods, our research project will map the personal and structural dimensions of sexual violence in organizations with analysis of institutional discourses, survivor stories, and organizational responses to sexual violence. Here, survivors will be heard as experts of their own experiences, and their voices will lead calls for social change in higher education. As part of our commitment to anti-oppressive work, this project inherently carries a feminist social justice agenda against gendered sexual violence, which views gendered violence as both an individual and collective experience that warrants an individual and collective response. The research methods will necessarily reflect this, employing feminist analysis to prioritize the stories of survivors while recognizing the socio-political conditions under which they are told. Here, voices will be understood as situated within power structures, and these power structures will be brought into question.
The project information is as follows:
“In recent times, the problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence in higher education has been highlighted in both the UK and US. However, often, the focus has been placed upon so called ‘lad culture’ on university campuses and on male students as perpetrators. Yet experts have described “epidemic levels of sexual harassment, misconduct and gender violence by staff at British universities” (The Guardian, 6th March, 2017). In addition, such organisations have been accused of paying ‘lip service’ to this issue rather than really tackling it head on.
Although there is a wealth of research on sexual harassment in organisational settings, much of this focuses on individuals without taking into account the structural context in which they are situated. Additionally, while feminist psychological work has mapped the discursive negotiation of workplace harassment, there is a lack of work on sexual violence and sexual assault in the workplace. This not only leaves sexual assault in organisations such as universities unspeakable, but also screens out the voices of those who have survived sexual violence in their everyday lives. Consequently, there is also a general lack of research on reporting sexual assault in organisations, which tends to be reserved for research on engagement with the police. Therefore, more research is needed on how sexual assault and reporting processes are negotiated within organisational contexts other than the police. In addition, while it is recognised in feminist work that "the personal is structural" (Ahmed, 2017) within institutional settings, there has been very little work to capture this interplay in relation to sexual assault in organisations. Indeed, the voices of survivors tend to be marginal in previous work.
This research will adopt a qualitative, feminist psychological approach in order to explore experiences of sexual violence in UK universities. It is anticipated that the research project will involve gathering anonymous qualitative online data from staff and students at UK universities who are women* and who have had experiences of sexual harassment and violence. The resultant data will be analysed using Feminist Relational Discourse Analysis. The research will also explore experiences of institutional responses in cases where these have been reported in order to shed light on the institutional structuring of sexual assault, and how this mediates and is mediated by the experiences of those situated in/by/through these contexts. By magnifying the voices of survivors, this research will map the personal-structural dimensions of sexual violence in organisations, and make survivor-centred recommendations for organisational transformation.”