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Sexual Harrassment Is Not Cool: Let’s Talk About It

By Arielle Lande

In fact, sexual harassment is far worse than ‘not cool’, but this phrase lends an entry point into a discussion on a serious issue that plagues everyday life. The Not Cool Collective (NCC) at University College London is a student led organisation, aiming to challenge the behaviours and attitudes around sexual harassment on campus and in wider society.

Starting from a friendly dinner, where victims and bystanders of sexual harassment came together, a group of students decided to share their personal experiences. ‘We wanted to allow people, whether that be bystanders, perpetrators or victims to be able to discuss the issue at hand and come together to formulate tangible solutions’ reflects Nehchal, a founding member of the NCC. This ethos emphasizes that the prevention of sexual harassment, is not the responsibility of the victim, but those that commit the crime. Daisy, the Vice President also explains that ‘There was a demand for a system to be in place at the university, which could deal with these types of issues’. The NCC therefore began creating this infrastructure and making a difference.

It is evident that the NCC aims to challenge gender norms and expectations about sexual harassment. ‘I thought that this would be a female-led movement, but quickly realised that all genders should join’ reflects Emad, the society’s treasurer. Speaking of his upbringing in Pakistan, he explains that ‘In the society I grew up in there was not much of a structural framework to provide justice, whereas the Not Cool Collective is a safer place for anyone to thrive’. For Agnese, who helps to run the society’s informative sessions, her experience began as an opportunity to discuss with other girls, their daily experiences of sexual harassment such as catcalling and online comments. She notes that ‘Although on the one hand, these experiences bring people together, the fact that it is such a normalised aspect of society is terrible’.

The Not Cool Collective want to change people’s behaviours and this is how the name comes into play; a catchy and more casual, rather than aggressive name, is both enticing and change inducing, appealing to anyone. Since the Not Cool Collective strives to invite everyone to discuss the issues at hand, Clara, the President of the society, explains the need ‘to function in the society within which we each live in’. She remarks that ‘We are a preventative action, rather than a support group’ explaining the meaning and purpose of their name starts with the initial problem, rather than the aftermath.

So how exactly does the Not Cool Collective work?

The society was launched with a club night out, thereby starting the movement at the source of the problem, as clubs are hotseats for incidents of sexual harassment. Regarding the professionalism of The Not Cool Collective, they have a close relationship with the Brandon Centre, a sexual education service centre; 40 students were trained by one of their professionals, regarding the legal issues of sexual harassment. These students were then dispersed between groups of 10 from different societies at UCL in order to hold an informal discussion-based session, facilitating conversation. Daisy, confirms that the team ensures resources are compiled which are as accessible as possible and are incorporated into their interactive sessions. ‘Recently, we have focused on reviewing the content of our sessions by incorporating definitions from sites such as Stonewall and Mermaids UK, educating ourselves to have fully informed discussions’.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Not Cool Collective has been forced to move online, however Clara asserts that because ‘we are an information-based organisation, being online has not hindered us’. If anything, the Not Cool Collective has taken full advantage of social media in order to reach a wider audience, and not only distribute helpful resources but interesting educational recommendations on the subject. The podcast ‘Finding ok’, the video ‘Let’s talk consent’ and the book SPEAK by Laurie Halse Anderson are some recently recommended items on their Instagram page, which is constantly updated. Moreover, this has formed connections with other bloggers reposting their material and vice-versa. ‘Ever since being President and having access to the Instagram account, I’ve found it amazing how much support there is’ reflects Clara.

The NCC recently began a petition, calling upon the UCL provost to make the educational program ‘I Heart Consent’ compulsory for all students and has since been launched across Universities and Colleges nation-wide with the objective of creating an educational program on sexual consent, harassment and assault on campus. ‘When people think of sexual harassment, they think of large-scale solutions, but this is a small-scale solution that is actually doable’ reflects Emad. ‘The simple act of signing your name means a student can do their part in taking a step towards solving this issue.’

Some particularly influential figures have also participated in the Not Cool Collective’s activities. Last year, they held a panel discussion on the subject of sexual assault and harassment within clubbing culture. The event was partnered with ‘Keep Hush’, a community driven underground music organisation and the panel included several important speakers such as Amy Lamé, Sadiq Khan’s advisor and also a prominent spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the creators of the Femme Collective, a multi-platform project dedicated to increasing gender equality in the music industry. The panel also included a representative from Solace Women’s Aid, a domestic abuse charity based in London, for which the event raised funds . ‘We try to incorporate as many topics as possible’ says Nehchal, demonstrating the multi- faceted approach of the society. This year, the NCC has also collaborated with the Hate Crime Unit, which aims to fight discrimination through activism, access to information, and advocacy.

The NCC have also used their platform to demonstrate their support for other societal issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Transgender rights, as well as debating specific aspects of sexual harassment such as lad culture, misogyny and public displays of sexual harassment. ‘As a philosophy, the idea of something being not cool, is about not being a bystander but calling things out when you see it’ says Daisy. Emad affirms that 'We must bridge the gap between not being okay with it and doing something about it’. Another point to note is Clara’s valid argument, which is that whilst in a political setting, ‘it is easy to act upon changes you want to make such as participating in rallies, voting and writing to your MP, with sexual harassment you need an organisation to come together and direct people who want to make a difference’, which is why the NCC is essential.

Whilst the Not Cool Collective is currently a UCL Society, their ethos and their actions are an example of how to effectively tackle an important societal issue in an engaging and productive manner. We should take inspiration from their success and incorporate it into our own University lifestyle at Leeds and our daily activities. Give them a follow on Instagram, delve into some of their suggested resources and start the conversation.