As many students get ready to face life beyond the gates of UCC, the Bystander Intervention Programme & the Graduate Attributes Programme show students how to take on the role of global citizens as they embark on their futures. 

Written by Clíonadh O’Keefe of the UCC Bystander Intervention Programme with additional writing support by Caroline Veiga (Graduate Attributes Programme) and Dr Emer Clifford (UCC Bystander Intervention Programme). 

Of late, it has been impossible to escape discussions pertaining to femicide, sexual violence, harassment, and misconduct. Dominating international, national and local media, these conversations and indeed gender relations in general, have grown increasingly polarized, with ensuing debates fraught with passion, frustration and downright ire. The recent kidnapping and brutal murder of Sarah Everard whilst returning home alone at night, sparked fear and anguish across the UK and Ireland, yet #NotAllMen flooded social networks, and in so doing at times overshadowed the murder of the young woman. Let’s be clear, not all men are murderers or perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence against women, but those who shared this hashtag missed the point entirely; gender inequality is the root cause of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and by gender inequality we mean any legal, social, or cultural situation in which sex and/or gender determine different rights and dignity for women, men and all other genders. These differentials are reflected in people’s unequal access to and enjoyment of rights – including bodily integrity and freedom from violence, as well as the assumption of stereotypical social and cultural roles, responsibilities, and behaviours. They permeate every aspect of life, whether that be public or private, in the family or the workplace, in political life, in power and in decision-making. In almost all societies, women are afforded less respect and assume less power, making them more vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence, to which certain groups of women are at even greater risk, depending on the intersections of gender with race, ethnicity, religion, class, ability, sexuality and other identity markers. 

The #MeToo movement shattered the silence surrounding sexual harassment against women in workplaces, a phenomenon to which the higher education sector in Ireland is not immune. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature in the workplace or learning environment. Our professional environment is not too different from other professional environments and therefore is subject to such issues. For some time, many working in the sector have been aware of prevailing gender inequalities and uneven power structures giving rise to incidents of sexual harassment against female staff. Not least are those manifested in the differential when it comes to salaries, promotions, funding and publications. The case of Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, assistant professor in STEM at UCD who was repeatedly harassed by a male professor has very recently put a spotlight on sexual harassment in Irish third-level institutes. 

The #NowWhat movement – a follow up to the #MeToo movement – aims to bring into public debate ways of addressing sexual harassment and its prevalence in the workplace. Reforms are commencing in Irish Higher Education in response to the National Framework to End

Sexual Harassment and Violence, and if we bring the same rigour that we apply to teaching and research, we can implement programmes that are effective in preventing sexual harassment in our workplace, including student work placements and our learning environment. However, the commitment must seek to eliminate harassment and its root cause, not simply meeting legal standards to reduce workplace liability. Cultural change is necessary and mandated. One such effective tool in demanding a zero-tolerance approach through engaging the community as a whole is the bystander intervention approach which recognises that we are all responsible for addressing sexual violence, and are responsible for our own actions, interactions, reactions and, indeed inactions, when it comes to issues of sexual violence, harassment and misconduct. 

Premised upon the core values of UCC, including equality, respect and integrity, the UCC Bystander Intervention Programme is currently being undertaken by both students and staff across the university campus. This 5-module training programme educates and upskills participants to recognise inappropriate and potentially harmful behaviours, and safely intervene in such situations. The aim is to bring about cultural change in our attitudes and behaviours to prevent sexual harassment and violence not only in UCC but in other learning, work and personal environments. On completion of the programme, graduands become Bystander Ambassadors and are awarded a Digital Badge. This is the UCC community’s way of acknowledging their role as local and global citizens and their valuable contribution towards preventing sexual violence and harassment, be they staff or students transitioning through UCC, or on to professional environments. This is precisely why the Bystander Intervention Programme ties in so well with UCC’s Graduate Attributes Programme (GAP) whose objective is to equip students with enabling distinctive values and attributes that will empower them to become courageous community leaders, who won’t stand by but rather who will stand out, stand up and be counted. We live in uncertain times, socially, politically, climatically, economically and culturally, and the Bystander and Graduate Attributes Programmes enable our students to become independent and creative thinkers who challenge the status quo; to be socially responsible, impactful, global citizens who recognise and challenge inequality and be part of a community of civically engaged individuals who embody and epitomise the core values of respect, ambition, compassion, resilience and integrity. Aligning closely with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the overarching objective of the Graduate Attributes Programme is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, competence and attitude that will enable them to contribute to a more equitable, just and respectful society, as well as a stronger economy and a cleaner environment. Becoming Bystander Ambassadors is a very tangible and powerful way for students to nurture their graduate attributes and live their values, to effect cultural change, challenge embedded norms and make a difference at individual and societal levels, where and when it matters the most. 

Find out more about UCC Bystander Intervention Programme: 

Find out more about the UCC Graduate Attributes Programme: