Staff sexual misconduct: new research and ways forward

Last week I attended an important event on staff-to-student sexual misconduct in UK Higher Education institutions. The event included a summary of new research showing the huge challenges students face in reporting sexual misconduct, and reflections on how best to tackle misconduct and reform reporting mechanisms. It was hosted by The 1752 Group, who are working hard to end staff-to-student misconduct in Higher Education. My talk focused on Athena SWAN. I reflected on how self-assessment teams can make use of the process to push for better reporting mechanisms in their institutions.

One of the most important aspects of the day was the focus on power. The very real power differential between lecturers/tutors/supervisors and their students is rarely acknowledged within academia. By ignoring this power relation or pretending that it is not relevant to sexual encounters, Higher Education institutions and those of us who work in them do our students an enormous disservice.

We heard some harrowing stories from researchers and survivors, but I also left inspired by the commitment of those who gathered to consider how best to create change. For decades now, stories of sexual misconduct have been silenced and covered up, which has effectively enabled perpetrators to continue their abuse. Through bringing together people with a range of expertise to reflect openly on themes such as power, complicity and accountability, we can begin to end the silence and think about practical solutions.

You can read a full account of the day from myself and other Twitter users on Storify here.

 

Gender statistic guidelines revised by HESA

The Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) have announced a welcome revision of their new gender and sex categories for student records within Higher Education.

I originally posted about this issue after HESA’s original proposed revisions – which appeared to ask about “legal” or “birth” sex and removed any possibility for the recognition of non-binary genders and intersex bodies – caused confusion and concern.

An impressive lobbying campaign in which trans people and allies emailed and tweeted HESA to explain our concerns has now led to a change in policy.

The revised fields contain the following categories:

SEXID (sex identifier)

1 Male
2 Female
3 Other

This replaces the current options (male, female, indeterminate) and the original proposed revision (male, female).

It is important to note that HESA acknowledge for the first time that the “other” category might be used to record non-binary genders in their advice to institutions:

The use of ‘other’ is more appropriate for people who associate with the terms intersex, androgyne, intergender, ambigender, gender fluid, polygender and gender queer.

As Jane Fae explains, this is an enormous step forward.

It’s also worth noting that institutions may, if they wish, institute additional gender options in their student record surveys (e.g. genderqueer, androgyne) and map these options onto the third category (“other”) for the sake of data provision to HESA.

GENDERID (gender identity)

Suggested question:
Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?

01 Yes
02 No
98 Information refused

These revisions are a massive improvement, representing a step forward from the existing guidelines as well as the flawed original revisions. HESA certainly deserve credit for listening carefully and responding positively to the complaints they received.

However, there is still some ambiguity in the SEXID question. No doubt some institutions will title this question “sex” whereas some may title it “gender”, and students may still experience uncertainty when formulating a response. For instance, how are intersex individuals who define as female or genderqueer individuals who wish to note that they have been assigned a male sex meant to respond to such a question?

Moreover, it is important that trans activists based within Higher Education continue to lobby institutions to recognise gender identity within student records purely on the basis of self-definition – a matter that is largely out of HESA’s hands.

Update on the HESA gender statistics affair

Some clarification, new information and new developments have emerged since I posted about HESA’s gender statistic fail yesterday.

Background

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) is currently revising a number of data collection fields. The changes are not yet set in stone. 

Two new fields (student.SEX and student.GENDERID) will effectively replace the one existing field (student.GENDER) which is currently used to collect data on gender within higher education institutes (usually universities) in the United Kingdom.

The existing student.GENDER field has the following categories*:

1 Male
2 Female
9 Indeterminate

In regards to “Indeterminate”, HESA note that:

“Code 9 ‘Indeterminate’ means unable to be classified as either male or female. It should not be used as a substitute or proxy for ‘Not known’. The term ‘indeterminate gender’ is intended to identify those who are ‘intersex’ and is not related in any way to trans-gender.”

However, in practice a number of institutions have effectively mapped answers such as “other” and “prefer not to say” onto this third category within enrolment/re-enrolment forms in order to provide non-binary, genderqueer, intersex and other students to effectively “opt out” of the gender binary.

The new, compulsory student.SEX field has the following categories:

1 Male
2 Female

The new, optional (for institutions) student.GENDERID field has the following categories:

01 Yes
02 No
98 Information refused

A brief analysis of the harm in these changes can be found in my previous post.

Developments

It appears that HESA have received a number of queries and complaints from trans people: it’s uplifting to see so impressive and rapid a response!

The agency initially responded by noting that the changes were the result of “consultation with [the] HE sector and ECU“. Commentators noted that this consultation seemed to at no point involved actual trans students.

However, in the last hour HESA have provided the following statement from their Twitter account:

“Thanks for queries re. sex and gender in next year’s HESA record. Your input will help us get this right.”

The tweet links to correspondence conducted between HESA and trans activist Emma Brownbill – if you have the time, it’s worth a read!

Some key points include the following:

“The phrase ‘legal’ sex is only currently used in the Staff Record. The intention in the Staff Record is to match the data requirements of HMRC, which for tax and pension purposes only accept Female or Male.

The final coding manual and guidance for the Student Record in 2012/13 has not been published. From your own and other queries about the provisional guidance and consultation documents it is clear that the terminology of ‘legal’ sex may not be appropriate for the Student Record.

Similarly the binary choice of Female or Male, originally intended to match the Staff Record, is now the subject of further discussion with regard to the Student Record.”

So let’s keep at this – we’re really getting somewhere!

Also, thanks to everyone who commented on the previous post, your contributions were greatly appreciated.

Edit: the story has now hit Pink News.

 

*The numbers (e.g. 1, 2, 9, 98) are used within statistical analyses.

 

Gender recognition under threat in UK universities

I read a very disturbing internal email this afternoon. I’m not going to quote the majority of it in order to preserve anonymity, but the central content is of concern to any current or future trans student in Higher Education.

Earlier this year, HESA [Higher Education Statistics Agency] confirmed a series of changes that they would be making to the HESA Student Record for the 2012/13 academic year, which would have an impact on some of the questions that students are asked during the application and enrolment process. A number of these changes relate to equality issues and the 2010 Equality Act and I thought it would be prudent for us to consult […]

The key changes of relevance are as follows:

(1) There is an existing field Student.GENDER which will from 2012/13 be replaced with Student.SEX. The new Student.SEX field will reflect ‘legal’ biological sex at birth and we have been advised that there will be only two valid entries for this field, either Male or Female.

(2) To complement the new Student.SEX field there will also be an additional field, Student.GENDERID, which is intended to reflect the student’s gender identity based on their own self-assessment. A response to this question, should we choose to ask it, would be optional for students. The ‘suggested question’ from the Equality Challenge Unit for eliciting this information is “Is your gender identity the same as the gender you were originally assigned at birth?” and it would be possible for students to respond with ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Information Refused’.

At my university, the current student.GENDER field allows students to identify as “female”, “male”, “other” or “prefer not to say” following intervention from trans activists and past Students’ Union welfare officers. This system, and any similarly progressive approach from other institutions, will be overturned by the new HESA guidelines.

My concerns are as follows:

1) What is “legal” sex? Is it:
(a) my birth sex? (in which case I’m male)
(b) what’s on my passport? (in which case I’m female)
(c) whether or not I have a gender recognition certificate? (in
which case I’m male)

[edit: a skim of the HESA guidelines shows that (a) is not the case, with the university apparently using the phrase “sex at birth” in error]

2) If (a) or (c), then the University is going to revert my “sex” on its forms. This will disclose I am trans to anyone using their records.


3) If (b), then anyone wishing to update their gender will have to out themselves by walking into the university administrative building and presenting their passport.
I had to do this in 2005 and it caused all kinds of weird issues with the Students’ Union and my records. We changed the system in two stages (the last one is referred to in the letter) in order to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

4) The new system erases intersex people.

5) The new system erases people with a non-binary identity.

6) This whole approach has an extremely flawed methodology that will only invalidate the desired data!

I suspect my university doesn’t have much of a choice about how this is carried about, and neither will others. We urgently need to lobby HESA to reverse their policy on this.

I’ll aim to write a more coherent analysis of the situation (inc. the complex role of the Gender Recognition Act) when I’m feeling more coherent.

EDIT: HESA notes changes to the student.GENDER field here. Information on the new (binary) gender identity code can be found here.