Feminist Activism Among Academic Staff in the Movement to Address Gender-Based Violence on Campus

Donovan, Catherine, Chantler, Khatidja orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9129-2560, Fenton, Rachel and Bracewell, Kelly orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-4635-7489 (2020) Feminist Activism Among Academic Staff in the Movement to Address Gender-Based Violence on Campus. In: Collaborating for Change: Transforming Cultures to End Gender-Based Violence in Higher Education. Oxford University Press. Oxford University Press (OUP). ISBN 9780190071820

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Regardless of how feminism is defined or identified, there is some consensus that its main project is to transform society by promoting social change (e.g., Ackerly & True, 2010). Talking about this goal as “the feminist project” incorrectly implies a coherent, organized set of activities agreed by consensus with all those who identify as a feminist. Of course, this is not the case. Priorities and methods differ, including the extent to which there is agreement about the utility of working within systems to affect change versus working outside them to dismantle them. For example, in her work, Walby (2005) has pointed to gender mainstreaming as providing new opportunities for women “to bring their gender expertise in[to] civil society from universities to grassroots organizations” (p. 467). Thus, working within universities can be viewed as a radical feminist endeavor.
McRobbie (2009), on the other hand, is more critical of this approach and questions the extent to which women in powerful positions within state institutions can be trusted to enact feminist agendas for change. Hence, considering the work of feminists within academia and their attempts to promote a gender-based violence (gBv) agenda provides an opportunity to consider whether and how institutions can be transformed from within. in the united Kingdom over the past 10 years there has been a focus on higher education institutions and universities and their responsibilities toward ensuring that they both create a safe environment for women students and staff as well as provide sensitive and appropriate responses to individual women seeking help and support for experiences of domestic and/or sexual violence (see, e.g., Anitha & lewis [2018] for an overview). during this time, the #MeToo movement has sparked an international raising of awareness and feminist activism about sexual harassment and violence, initially in the entertainment industry but subsequently more broadly in other industries such as universities. Activists in the united states have been addressing sexual violence and harassment targeting women at universities for much longer and provide lessons in what works that, with attention to cultural differences, have resonance for the uK con- text (e.g., Bertram & Crowley, 2012; see Klein [2018] for an overview;). underlying these discussions is the role of feminist scholarship, activism, and lobbying (i.e., feminist, praxis; Ackerly & True, 2010), in the production of knowledge and evidence about gBv at universities as well as in the development of transformative policy, strategy, and practice to promote
institutional structural and cultural changes.
We begin by considering three activities that, we argue, can be under- stood to constitute transformative feminism: scholarship, activism, and lobbying. second, we provide the uK context for addressing sexual violence and harassment in universities. Third, we describe the methodology from which this chapter draws its data and analysis. in the findings section we consider three different aspects of the activist feminist research process that have the potential for transformation and how they mirror three essential ingredients of feminism: scholarship in proposing to and conducting research with university students; activism in contributing to, developing, and evaluating interventions to address gBv; and lobbying by participating in steering groups, working parties, and task and finish groups to comment on and help fashion institutional strategies and policies. While some of the accounts point to what are considered, in the moment, as failures and an array of barriers to achieving change, we argue that it is in the doing of this work, in the activism—sometimes spearheaded by individuals but often in alliances with others, who are mainly women— that cumulatively we can see evidence of the transformative impact of an activist feminist research process.

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