24 March 2023

Students and staff take a stand against abusive behaviour at University of Wollongong

| Katrina Condie
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Students on lawn

Cultural change workshops will soon be rolled out across UOW campuses. Photo: Paul Jones.

University of Wollongong (UOW) students are learning how to take a stand when they are confronted with harmful or abusive behaviour, including racism and gender-based violence.

As part of UOW’s Safe and Respectful Communities initiative, a series of new cultural change workshops aim to provide students and staff with the tools they need to be active bystanders and to intervene when they are confronted with negative behaviour.

The first workshop was held on 14 March, with a focus on creating a culture of personal leadership and respect among students.

Project coordinator Angela Cowan said the response to the workshop was overwhelmingly positive and “had a real impact on the students who attended”.

“They were engaged with the material and felt a sense of ownership over the role they can play in creating a safe and respectful community at UOW,” Angela said.

“One of the most meaningful messages was around the ‘ripple effect’ of our actions. By standing up for others and intervening when we see behaviour that is not acceptable, the students have recognised that they are truly contributing to the overall environment of respect at the university.”

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The initiative is about cultural change.

On the surface, the message is simple: If you see something, say something. But putting it into practice, especially when facing a fraught situation, can be much more complex.

“We are encouraging every person, every student, to not turn away when they see something that is troubling, to not think that it’s too hard or they can’t help, but to have the tools to take action.

“The behaviour we walk past is the behaviour we accept. And by standing up for others, we are showing them respect and that they matter,” Angela said.


The program will be rolled out across UOW campuses. Photo: UOW.

UOW student Shaun Rafferty said the workshop provided essential tools that were beneficial to all staff and students.

“I wanted to know and understand what I can do to support people during difficult situations,” he said.

“Learning different approaches to either intervene in a situation or how to support a person experiencing these situations is a great first step in stopping discrimination, harassment and bullying within society.

“One of the biggest takeaways that I had from the session is that when it comes to being a bystander, you can’t make the situation worse so it’s best to do what you can to stop/diffuse the situation and/or support the victim.

“I think everyone, no matter staff or student, should participate in the training as you never know when these skills will be needed. Everyone is a bystander, even if you weren’t present at the event – just hearing about something unfolding makes you a bystander, so knowing what to do next is vital.”

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The cultural change workshops were introduced in response to staff and student feedback from Respect Week 2022.

Angela and a colleague will soon take part in training to become workshop facilitators, enabling the program to be rolled out across the university in the coming months.

UOW Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Patricia M. Davidson said that issues of discrimination, harassment and assault have no place at the university and in the wider community.

“It can be difficult standing up for others in complex situations, but by providing the practical training and tools, we are ensuring that all members of our university know how to be an active bystander,” she said.

“You never know when you will need to step in and address harmful and abusive behaviour.

“The workshops are an amazing initiative that will continue to build on our culture of respect at UOW and to shape the next generation of safe and respectful leaders, at university and in the community.”

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