Leadership and Organising for Social Change: Addressing the Needs of Victims of Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence
Leadership and Organising for Social Change: Addressing the Needs of Victims of Sexual Assault and Sexual Violence
- Wilhelmenia Etoga NgonoIf
In the academic year of 2020-2021, my institution had become involved with Citizens UK in line with the some of the aims of our strategic plans aligned with BHASVIC becoming more engaged in the community. As a result of this involvement with Citizens UK, I was given the opportunity to support the development of a new initiative for the young people of colour within our institution: the BAME Leadership Group. This was organised and developed in conjunction with Sussex University and led by Monique Forbes-Bromes, a key member of the Students’ Union at Sussex University. For the purpose of this initiative, I was mainly shadowing Monique and recruiting young adults from my institution. Following my engagement in the leadership group, I made the decision to attend Citizens UK’s three day training course in community leadership to gain a more thorough insight and understanding into community organising.
The key motivation which emerged as a result of this training was the opportunity that was then presenting itself to give the young adults within my institution a voice, something that I am passionate about and have committed my practice to ensuring as an educator. Our institution has a students’ union, student-run societies, and has been proactive in supporting young people expressing themselves through our students’ forum. But I wanted to widen this opportunity by providing our young adults with a safe space to learn more about their passion and take small steps towards developing as organisers with the support and guidance required to build their confidence in their own capabilities as leaders.
Following the training, a suggestion was made to develop and implement a new portfolio course for our second-year students focusing on helping them develop the skills and knowledge they need to become effective leaders and lead on a social campaign of their choice. Additionally, an opportunity arose to run the portfolio conjunctively with the University of Sussex giving me an opportunity to work with Dr Katherine Kruger to develop resources and run the programme successfully. So, the hope was that we would be able to join the efforts of our cohorts in developing ideas, sharing good practice and even co-working on social justice campaigns.
The main aim of the leadership portfolio course was to provide a platform for development of our young people in line with one aspect of our strategic plan centred on our ‘students as leaders and citizens’. Secondly, my personal aim and aspiration was to give young people a space where they can express their feeling and views of society and use that to fuel their own aspirations for social change, whilst using my knowledge to give them the tools necessary to be successful. The leadership portfolio not only had the opportunity to contribute to the growth of the young people within our institution, be the starting point for a change within our institution by creating lasting and developing legacy, but also changing the face of our institution and its norm through change.
One of the benefits of having the portfolio structured as part of the college timetable was that it was easy to allocate the time required for delivery. However, this being a new course, students didn’t have much to hang onto in terms of what their learning would actually entail.
The course would run from end of September to April, and I decided to run it with two sessions weekly, to allow enough time for the delivery of content and theory, as well as opportunities for one-to-one conversations with the students. To start with, we had eight curious and intrigued young adults who signed up to take part in the course.
The relatively small size of the group this did not reduce the anxieties I felt as a newbie to community organising. I was keen to share some of my recently-acquired knowledge but felt that the students would immediately call my bluff.
The first part of the portfolio course which lasted from September to mid-December centred on developing and building relationships within the group itself by engaging in a range of activities in line with community organising principles. The young adults involved for the most part were strangers to one another. The thing that united them was that they all had a commitment to social change. Thus, through the process of one-to-ones and rounds – where all learnt to share their thoughts about their experience of society – my goal was to help the group build, and develop, relational power with one another through establishing common self-interests. In my case, as someone in a position of authority, I wanted to build cohesion within the group by establishing a leadership style which would be conducive to that purpose. Thus, I opted for an affiliative style of leadership which would allow me to also become part of the group by fully engaging in the discussions and one-to-ones. This was something that I had witnessed whilst working on the BAME leadership group project and felt had been really helpful to its good running.
Throughout this time where the focus was on delivery, we experienced very few snags and the process ran really smoothly. Our first challenging task occurred when we engaged in the ‘beads of privilege’ task, which was part of the oppression and privilege section of the course. The group in itself was highly in favour of engaging in the process and the exercise really generated some excellent reflections on both parts. The task in itself is rather visceral and emotionally challenging for all involved. Emotions such as sadness, guilt, shame, or all those combined are often those experienced by the participants regardless of their level or lack of privilege. This experience was one which the group also experienced quite strongly. Therefore, what was key for me was to ensure was that I reinforced the notion that we all have some level of privilege. But it was also key to discuss that, as community organisers and leaders, the focus should be on how we can use our privileges for the greater good of our communities.
From January onwards, the focus shifted and centred on a social campaign, once the group had decided what it was they felt they wanted to work on. This changed the dynamics of our sessions where the focus turned to developing strategies. We carried on using rounds discussion as these allowed members of the group to share and had become a favoured activity for bonding purposes. As a result of those rounds, a decision was made before the Christmas break to go ahead and focus on helping in the development of resources for victims of sexual violence and sexual assault.
One of the first activities I facilitated was to do a power analysis of our College, as the social campaign was focused on our institution directly. As such, it was key for the group to establish who the power holders within it were and decide what would be the next steps to take.
Our power analysis was very straightforward, and we identified seven key individuals which included members of senior management, governors and the members of the safeguarding team, as well as the Students’ Union.
At this stage in the course, leaders within the group definitely emerged and they took ownership of the campaign by scheduling initial meetings with the Students’ Union, the Head of Student Support, as well as the Safeguarding Lead. The Safeguarding Lead became an instrumental form of support in the development of the campaign as she provided guidance on the creation of resources the group had agreed on to help them understand the magnitude of the issue. She was able to reign in first and foremost the expectations of the core team who were fuelled by a sense of injustice at the way in which the process was currently handled. This was essential in levelling the group as a whole and centring their focus once more on the notion of social change.
The next step for the team was to decide on the resources they required to be able to pursue their campaign successfully. Discussions around the matter led to the decision that the use of a survey and a house meeting (i.e. a small group discussion) would be the way forward. Again, supported by our Safeguarding Lead, sessions ensued to discuss the content of the survey and the way in which the data would be gathered.
Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, it was crucial for the core team to be aware of some of the ethical challenges with the survey, which was aligned with consent and data protection. As the facilitator, I took the lead in engaging in communications with our data manager to and draft an appropriate introduction to the survey, amending the draft by the team and identifying the best way to send out the survey whilst minimising potential harm and maintaining anonymity. The survey was sent out to all students within our College using their email addresses and the group, after a week, collected all the responses. As part of the survey, one of the questions requested for volunteers to participate in a house meeting to discuss the issues raised.
The next step for the team was to plan and schedule the house meeting which took place the week before the Easter break with a view to organise an Accountability Assembly with the stakeholders on Thursday 28th April, 2022. I facilitated access to a room and provision of refreshments and snacks for the house meeting which was the final opportunity for the team to discuss in depth their campaign and generate some insight from individuals not directly involved in the campaign. Subsequently, analysis of the data was carried out by selected members of the team whilst the remaining members worked on drafting an invitation email to the stakeholders telling them about the upcoming Accountability Assembly.
The team, in the process of developing and planning their campaign, had identified key aims that they wanted to achieve as a result of their work:
- Training for staff on trauma-informed support so that disclosures are made more efficiently and without students being unsure of who to talk to – the Head of Student Services organised for basic awareness of trauma informed practice to take place during our May 2022 INSET.
- The implementation of a ‘Report a Concern’ button – the Assistant Principal is currently working on a proposed app for the students and will look into implementing a ‘Report a Concern’ button as part of it. If this does not work, discussions will take place with our team of developers to add this to our Virtual Learning Environment page or our student dashboard.
- Wider awareness of positive relationships and sexual relationships (at this stage we have dedicated November as a sole month for awareness) – the student services department implementing ‘drop down days’ for 2022-2023 academic year in the first instance, focusing on various challenges our young adults face delivered by expert organisations such as WiSE and the Survivors Network. Those are scheduled to take place during our progress review. Additionally, review of the tutorial programme will be taking place to ensure that awareness if promoted through our tutorial programme.
- Flagging up of relevant external charities who can provide support – relevant and additional resources will be added to the wellbeing section of the website.
- Reviewing/implementation of policies clarifying the process of reporting and investigation; specialised support available on site if possible – our Head of Student Support has reviewed our policies and procedure with regards to reporting of incident aligned with sexual assault/violence. Additionally, recruitment took place for a mental health specialist as well as a safeguarding manager to add further capacity to our student services department.
To engage in a discussion with the power holders in our institution and secure their pledges to bring forth some of the changes above, the team scheduled an Accountability Assembly.
Based on the power that we’d built and the energy of our group, in attendance were the entirety of the student support team, including our trainee social worker, the Assistant Principal and our Safeguarding Governor.
Our team presented to the attendees, explained their rationale, findings, and demands during the session and also allowed time for an open discussion which enabled both parties to clarify requests and current processes in place. Thus, as a result of this Accountability Assembly, the power holders agreed to all our demands above and additionally have already started the process of implementing some of those.
One of the long-term implications for the College in relation to this new initiative has made a positive contribution to our strategic plan in developing our young adults into leaders. Additionally, this is setting a very positive precedent for the College community in inspiring other students with an activist mindset to seek out to develop as leaders and bring about social change. With the help of the marketing team, the teams work and wins (have been/will be publicised) in the parents and student newsletters.
Additionally, the campaign has also worked to improve the support available to our students experiencing severe and challenging circumstances which will no doubt have a long-lasting impact on their overall wellbeing but also their ability to continue with their studies. The aim of the campaign was not to pretend that we can solve all the issues aligned with sexual victimisation but rather ensure that we can support our students effectively in collaboration with specialised agencies through the process supporting them through the journey.
The demands and changes agreed have been identified by the team to ensure that those would be sustainable, have the ability to be reviewed and reframed as necessary to ensure that the original foundation for the changes is maintained and consistent across subsequent academic years. With one of the strengths of our institution embedded in our quality assurance process, I am confident that the required reviews of the various initiatives will take place consistently.
One of the key strengths of the team and the campaign they led and which was key to their success was their transparency with the organisation from the start as well as their eagerness and commitment to engage with power holders at any given opportunity. For example, when the plan for the campaign was finalised with the key demands identified, power holders and key events aligned with the campaign. The documents compiled was sent to the Head of Student Support and the Assistant Principal to ensure they were clear on what the team sought out. As a result of this approach, the team was able to develop a collaborative relationship with the power holders and thus lead a successful campaign.
Citizens UK is made up of hundreds of member organisations that are committed to taking action together for social justice and the common good.
We believe that faith, education, trade union and community organisations play a vital role as civil society institutions with deep and long-standing roots in their local areas. Through voluntary participation in these organisations, people build relationships, trust, vision and hope - and learn how to work constructively with those they might disagree with, to focus on what they have in common.