With new regulation pending for addressing sexual harassment, how can staff be supported through the challenges and the opportunities?

Cynthia Ellis, Co-founder of The Consent Collective discusses how HEIs can prepare for potential changes in regulation of sexual harassment.

Speak to anyone working on responses to sexual harassment in Higher Education at the moment and you’re likely to be talking to someone with a lot on their plate. Teams have had the task of trying to prepare for potential new changes to regulation, many with the backdrop of more pressure on their budgets, and the added impact of more stress resulting in understandable staff absence and attrition.

This work is so important. We’re pleased to see a push to bring in regulatory incentives to help improve the way institutions respond to and prevent sexual harassment on campus. But this work is all about people. Consent is fundamentally about relationships. It’s about how we treat each other. So how can you ensure that the teams doing this essential work on your campus are equipped, supported, and guided in the work?

At The Consent Collective many of our client calls over the summer have been a chance to ask ‘How are you really?’ and ‘What do you need?’. The answers to both questions have been different. Some people are struggling with the changes, whilst others are enthused by the opportunity to take the work further at their institution, sometimes both.

But regardless of whether the changes are seen as a challenge or an opportunity, most people have told us that what they need (other than a three week holiday in the sunshine) is clarity, time and space to think through the changes they want to make and some guidance in making and implementing those decisions. They also need to feel connected to colleagues, so that when inevitable challenges come along they feel resourced to respond to them with others rather than on their own, and they are also looking for more tools to help them do the work.

How can we all support those teams through this transition? Our response has been to recognise that as the work grows, and as the teams delivering the work grow, being an external provider is even less about providing an outsourced ‘solution’ to sexual harassment on campus, and more about supporting internal teams as they develop and implement their own solutions. As a result, we’re offering our partner universities a few new initiatives, specifically aimed at supporting specialist internal teams in this work:

  • We now offer online group supervision with our founder, psychologist Dr Nina Burrowes. These sessions can be a chance for teams or individuals to work through the particular challenges they may be facing and doing so with an expert.
  • For universities that are implementing, or updating, their consent workshops on campus we have an online train the trainer course, which serves as a resource and a space to reflect on good practice and acquire the skills needed to deliver an impactful skills-based consent session with students.
  • For teams who need support, development and a sense of connection with colleagues, we’re offering to hold online circles. These sessions can be used to develop and reflect on core issues relating to this work from boundaries to trust, conflict, anger, grief, power and leadership.

The growing Peer Network for Professionals in Higher Education is an additional space where people can connect with colleagues from other universities and share the successes and challenges of responding to sexual harassment on campus.