Students to help fight sexism

Project coordinator Ellie Hutchison

By Andy Mackie

Scottish students are to be trained to challenge sexist and homophobic attitudes in a new project set to be piloted in the new year.

The Bystander programme, which will be delivered in universities and colleges, is being run collaboratively organisations including Scottish Womens Aid, LGBT, White Ribbon, Rape Crisis and Zero Tolerance.

Ellie Hutchison from Scottish Womens Aid is the campaigns coordinator and hopes to mirror the success of similar schemes in America. The aim of the programme is to train men to feel comfortable confronting a variety of social behaviour, as Hutchinson explains: “[confrontation] can range from name calling to physical violence”. Not knowing how to react in such situations is a common problem and Hutchison says: “A lot of people don’t feel comfortable with sexist or homophobic actions but equally don’t feel comfortable to say to family or friends that it is unacceptable.”

The objective is to find a way for people to approach such situations in a way they are at ease with: “Instead of saying to your friends you shouldn’t be saying that, it is about acknowledging there are barriers preventing this and finding a way round these. For instance by distracting the person, changing the subject, or making a joke”.

Bystander programmes have been a feature of university life in America for several years. The Green Dot project, which originated in the University of Kentucky, has proved so successful that it has spread to over forty other states throughout the country. Research has shown a decrease in acts of sexual violence in campuses where the programme is run.

The pilot programme is due to take place in Edinburgh University in the new year and will hopefully rolled out nationally next autumn. Bystander acknowledges that every university is different and is adaptable. Hutchison says: “The programme is flexible and can be adapted to particular circumstances in individual universities. It does not have a one size fits all approach.”  Anyone interested in participating in the Bystander programme can email for details.