NUS calls for summit on 'Lad Culture'

New research published by NUS reveals that that 50 per cent of study participants identified "prevailing sexism, 'laddism' and a culture of harassment" at their universities.

In light of the findings, NUS has called on Women and Equalities Minister Jo Swinson to convene a summit on ‘lad culture’.

The demand for a summit is supported by leading women’s organisations such as The Everyday Sexism Project, and Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) who will represent Universities UK. British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) has also committed to participation in the summit.

The newly published report, That’s what she said: Women students’ experiences of lad culture in higher education’ brings together independently commissioned research from the University of Sussex examining ‘lad culture’ on campus.

Research findings

  • ‘Lad culture’ was defined by our participants as a group or ‘pack’ mentality residing in activities such as sport and heavy alcohol consumption, and ‘banter’ which was often sexist, misogynist and homophobic.
  • Respondents described university education as ‘gendered’ and cited issues such as the characterisation/status of particular subjects, classroom interactions, and negative attitudes towards feminism and gender-related topics.
  • ‘Lad culture’ was thought to be particularly influential in the social side of university life. Extracurricular activities and sports in particular were singled out as key sites, and it was reported that sexism in such environments could spill over into sexual harassment and humiliation.
  • Nights out were described as key spaces in which ‘lad culture’ was in evidence. Participants highlighted that nightclub promoters (external to the students’ union) engaged in ‘lad culture’ as part of their business model.
  • For many participants, ‘lad culture’ had been significant in relation to their personal life. Many reported misogynist jokes and ‘banter’ circulating in their friendship groups which made them feel uncomfortable, and pressures to engage in profuse sexual relationships which made it difficult to establish and maintain commitments. Stories of sexual harassment and molestation were common, and there were also accounts of sexual violence.
  • Sexual harassment and violence were also very much related to ‘lad culture’. This included verbal harassment and ‘catcalling’, as well as physical harassment and sexual molestation. Groping in nightclubs was viewed by some as part of a ‘normal’ night out.

In 2010 NUS published the ‘Hidden Marks’ report which produced the staggering statistic that 68 per cent of respondents had been the victim of one or more kinds of sexual harassment on campus during their time as a student.

That’s What She Said’ builds on this revelation with an exploration of the depth of feeling surrounding the phenomenon of ‘lad culture’ and how this can facilitate negative student experiences. As such, the research contains analysis of data from interviews and focus groups with 40 women students from England and Scotland, exploring how ‘lad culture’ affects every area of student life to a greater or lesser degree.

In a letter to Women’s Minister Jo Swinson, NUS’ Women’s Officer Kelley Temple wrote:

“The study found a worrying prevalence of ‘lad culture’ and the report will make uncomfortable reading for many of us - NUS and students’ unions included - when it comes to our own responsibilities. ‘Lad culture’ is a problem that needs to be urgently addressed. ”

Laura Bates from The Everyday Sexism Project said:

“The new research from the NUS confirms and reiterates themes that have arisen again and again across hundreds of young people's entries to the Everyday Sexism Project. Young women report being bullied, harassed and belittled, with sexual jokes and threats punctuating their experience of higher education.”

Diane Abbott MP said:

‘It is important that the government and universities listen to what students are saying, and challenge any normalisation of sexism on university campuses. This isn’t about being killjoys, but about building a society where people can learn and thrive free from shame, harassment and abuse.

Polly Williams, Senior Policy Adviser, Equality Challenge Unit said:

“A dominant ‘lad culture’ may also damage the student experience of many male students, who either feel that they have to conform, or become disengaged from campus life to avoid it.”

Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said:

"It is important to remember that this is an issue for society generally, not just one confined to university students."

Thats what she said

Download the full ‘That’s What She Said’ report here.

Download the summary report here.

Please note: This report carries a trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault and rape.