Inside Track | How do we support students following harassment or violence?
Andrea Kerslake and Charlotte Webster, from the Harassment and Misconduct team, assess the role of collaborative working in supporting students following experiences of harassment or violence.
Charlotte Webster, Harassment and Misconduct Manager
Presenting at Westminster Insight’s recent Tackling Sexual Harassment and Misconduct in Higher Education Conference, Andrea and Charlotte introduced the unique way in which the University adopts a holistic approach to responding to students’ experiences of harassment and misconduct.
Encouraging strong multi-agency working, with services on and off campus, ensures no victims or survivors slips through the gaps and can maintain a positive student experience.
What do we mean by a holistic approach to student support?
A holistic approach means to provide support that looks at the whole person, not just the initial needs they may present with. This way of working encourages colleagues to think about the whole student experience and recognise the range of impacts someone might experience after a challenging or inappropriate incident.
At Leeds, we encourage a role-based competency approach to supporting students. We think about our individual role and level of responsibility, reflecting on expectations on us and boundaries of our remit.
We connect students with the right support, and the right time, as well as recognising that we cannot often support someone fully while working in isolation. We follow protocols, guidelines and toolkits of information to ensure a consistent response across the University eco-system. Our jigsaw of support shows how can all connect to play our part in delivering a student-centred approach.
How does this work for victims/survivors of harassment or violence?
At Leeds, the Harassment and Misconduct team provide specialist and dedicated provision to staff and students in this area. The centralised team, based within Student Support, can provide specialist provision for victims and survivors, but also have capacity to be a consistent presence and a facilitator of multi-agency or holistic working.
Placing the student at the heart of the work promotes a positive sense of autonomy, transparency and empowerment. Working together, we can start to compartmentalise the impact of their experience and we can connect them with the most appropriate services to navigate through that impact.
That might look like working with their School/Faculty to contextualise some of the challenges they’re experiencing when engaging with their studies and request appropriate reasonable adjustments.
We connect with colleagues in Student Counselling and Wellbeing, Disability Service, Student Funding and Finance team where they would benefit from therapeutic or practical support to overcome barriers. We also work with Residences to arrange emergency or alternative accommodation to help students regain a sense of safety.
This model of provision extends further than the University campus. Multi-agency working has allowed us to build strong partnerships across the City of Leeds and nationally. This means we work closely with West Yorkshire Police, local charities and organisation such as SARSVL, Shantona and Leeds Domestic Violence Service, and the City Council.
Conducting multi-agency working, where there is risk, is crucial. Strong partnerships and consensual information sharing ensures risk can be appropriately managed by the most relevant organisations.
We want to recognise students as individual and multi-faceted who will benefit from a tailored, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
How does this approach impact students?
The outcome of maintaining these shared values is a trauma-informed way of working, and that sentiment is felt by the student who has engaged with support and promotes a positive experience of support through a difficult or distressing experience.
“I was hesitant at first because what I wanted to talk about was very personal. I found out quickly that the Harassment and Misconduct team are confidential, very friendly, and genuinely supportive. The team helped me choose my next steps in terms of getting help based on my concern, and they are well connected and put me in contact with several people who have also helped me within the University and in the city. It's a wonderful service that I'm so grateful exists, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who has had a traumatic experience(s).”
What role do we all have to play in contribution to holistic approaches?
When we invite our whole community to contribute to prevention and response work, relevant to their role, we can achieve our shared goals in creative ways.
Reflections from our tailored work with victims and survivors can inform our prevention work across campus but also within the city and our wider community through conversations with the police, with the City Council and with specialist charities. In the last six months, we’ve been able to reflect on what we’ve seen coming into the team and use that to inform university-wide awareness raising campaigns promoting our service and highlighting the ways in which we can help.
It has kick-started our first behaviour-specific campaign which seeks to educate and prevent sexual violence across our community. We’ve been able to create our own Responding to Disclosures training, which is a role-based approach, giving guidance to staff not online in front line roles but across campus. It is developed by University practitioners, our student complaints and disciplinary team, West Yorkshire Police and our staff counselling service who offer a brilliant message around boundaries and self-care.
Holistic working also allows us to embed the student voice and, in turn, victims' voices into our conversations about evolving and developing specific policies, processes and training.
We have a strong relationship with our Student Liberation groups within the Union who have been instrumental in providing feedback and insight into how we do this work. Through our relationship, they’re being invited to contribute to provide consultation on our responding to disclosures training as well as student facing consent and active bystander sessions.
Charlotte also delivers training, education, and engagement activities for the University community and contributes specialist knowledge to help develop University policies.
She is currently working towards her PhD and is passionate about considering the individual and specific needs of students here through creating a non-judgemental and flexible service.Posted in: University newsMy Week