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Higher education, students, the strikes and me*
It was somewhat disappointing to read some of the comments purportedly from a university student in our local newspaper the other week. Critical of the current UCU industrial action and its impact on students, the student suggested that lecturers knew what they were signing up for and should just get on with it. I found it interesting and somewhat incongruent with what the national student union stance is (actually, I was livid). I know there has been a response to the article from the local union representative and other comments perhaps suggesting that my previous blog should be read (I wouldn’t think anyone in their right mind would have signed up for what I described). But just to be clear, I signed (or my union did on my behalf) a contract that states I am required to work 37 hours a week with the occasional evening or weekend work and that the normal working week is Monday to Friday. I take the meaning of ‘occasional’ as the definition found in the English dictionary (take your pick as to which one you’d like to use), which is not ‘permanently’ or ‘all of the time’ or ‘ad infinitum’. I can only speak for myself and not for my colleagues, but I don’t mind working a little longer at times and working the weekend to do marking or open days, but I didn’t sign up to be working all of the time. So, for me the industrial action is not just about my working conditions but about a contract, a legal obligation, which I am fulfilling but my employer seems to suggest that I am not because I am not working far in excess of my contracted hours. That to me, is illogical.
I remember a discussion where a senior manager stated that bullying included giving someone excessive workloads. I wonder whether that means that most lecturers are being bullied by management, isn’t there a policy against that? And then I seem to recall that there is some legislation against inequality, would that not include paying lower wages to women, disabled staff and people from minority ethnic groups? Systemic bullying and discrimination, not a pretty picture in higher education.
But perhaps the most important point is that as lecturers we don’t want to impact our student’s education, and this shouldn’t be about us versus the students. It’s what management would like because it detracts from so many issues that plague our higher education system. Students should quite rightly be unhappy with their lot. A system that plunges students into a lifetime of debt that they will rarely if ever be able to repay and at the same time lines the pockets of private companies seems to me to be immoral. A system that requires students to pay extortionate fees for accommodation is completely bonkers especially when it means the less affluent students have to work to afford to live. A system that requires students to study for approximately 46 hours per week in semester time (If we accept that they are entitled to holiday time) seems overly punitive. Couple this with the need to work to afford to live and it becomes unsustainable. Add to that any caring responsibilities or anything else that complicates their lives, and it starts to look impossible. I and my colleagues are not really surprised that so many fail to properly engage, if at all, and that there are so many stressed students and students with mental health issues. Of course, if we add to that individual capabilities, think unconditional offers and low school grades and let’s be honest widening participation becomes simply a euphemism for widening deBt, misery and, more importantly establishment profit.
The students were on strike for one day the other week, someone asked me why, well I rest my case. Whilst I understand student anger about the strikes, that anger is directed at the wrong people. We all signed up for something different and it’s simply not being delivered.
*The first part of this entry can be found here.
Reflecting on reflection
For some years now students taking the third year Critiquing Criminalistics module on our criminology course at the university have had an assessment relating to a reflective diary. Most educators and those in other professions will be aware of and understand the advantage of reflection and reflective diaries so it is probably not necessary to revisit the well-rehearsed arguments about benefits to learning and personal development. Each year, I have found that over the course of the module, the students have come to recognise this and have intimated how they have enjoyed reflecting on what they have learnt in the class or how reflecting on personal experiences has been beneficial. And they comment on how they have sought out further information to gain additional knowledge or to put what they have learnt in some form of perspective. It is of course what we as educators would want and expect from a reflective diary assessment that after all counts towards their marks for the module.
What has surprised me though is how much reviewing these modules has benefited me. I have learnt from and continue to learn my students. We all recognise or at least should the old saying ‘the more I know, the more I realise I don’t know’ or similar. My students prove that is the case often with each round of diary entries I review. The diaries can provide an insight into students lives and thoughts. For some of them it may be a cathartic release to capture their feelings on paper, for me it is enlightening and provides a greater understanding of some of the challenges they face not only as students but also as predominately young adults in a challenging and at times hostile social and economic environment. Perhaps what is equally as enlightening is the additional knowledge that students provide about the subject area being discussed and taught. It is almost like sending out my own little army of literature reviewers with a challenge to advance their knowledge and ipso facto, mine. I am clear that part of the reflection process is about taking what you have learnt further and as this an assessment, demonstrating this additional knowledge with some academic rigor. And so, I find that in some cases what I have stated in the class (currently online) is challenged and that challenge is supported by academic reading. When I read some of these little gems, I smile but alongside this is the additional work created as I review the journal article they have referenced and then decide whether to revisit my lectures to add in the additional information. Even if I don’t, it all adds to my knowledge and, on reflection as my students are proving, there is plenty of scope to find out more.
Domestic Abuse Misinterpreted: Beyond the Scope of Violence
The framework behind my dissertation arose from a lifelong unanswered question in my mind: “why is psychological and emotional abuse often overlooked in domestic abuse scenarios?” This question had formed in my precocious mind as a child, this was due to experiencing domestic abuse in the family home for many years and in many forms.
Early Stages of the Dissertation
It was only when I began studying criminology at university that I unearthed many underlying questions relating to the abuse I suffered as a child and from watching my mother be psychically and mentally abused. I was understanding my experiences from an academic standpoint, as well as my peers’ experience of domestic abuse too. As a child, I had recognised that the verbal and psychological abuse was increasingly more detrimental on the victim’s mental wellbeing than the physical violence; the physical violence is a tactic used by abusers to install fear in the victim. In the early stages of my dissertation, I was gathering literature to aid my understanding on domestic abuse. I came across two essential books, one book was recommended by @paulaabowles, my dissertation supervisor: Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear (1979) by Erin Pizzey. This book provided great insight to the many aspects of domestic abuse from the memoires of Erin Pizzey who founded the first domestic abuse refugee in London 1971 known as, Chiswick Women’s Aid. The second book was: Education Groups for Men Who Batter: The Duluth Model (1993) by Pence and Paymar. This book aided my knowledge on the management of male abusers and how their abusive behaviour is explained by the using the visual theoretical framework known as, the Duluth Model; the Power and Control Wheel. I gathered more literature on domestic abuse and formed the backbone for my dissertation, it was time to self-reflect and establish my standpoint so that I could conduct my research as effectively and ethically.
This was the most important aspect of the dissertation; the most influential too. In my second-year studies, we were required to conduct research in a criminal justice agency to form a placement report; I chose a charitable organisation based in Northampton that provided support to female victims and offenders in the criminal justice system. For my dissertation, I chose to go back to the facility to conduct further research, this time my focus was on the detrimental effects experienced by female victims of domestic abuse.
Using a feminist standpoint alongside an autoethnographic method/ methodology, I was able to conduct primary research together with the participants of the study. I chose feminism as my standpoint due to the fundamental theoretical question centred in the social phenomenon of domestic abuse: gender inequality. I believe the feminist perspective was the most compatible and reliable standpoint to tackle my research with, it allowed room for self-reflection to identify my own biases and to recognise societal influences on how I interpret experiences and emotions. The standpoint’s counterpart – autoethnography – was employed so that I could actively insert myself into the research; this was supported by my research tool of observation participation and by recording qualitative data in a research diary. Over the course of nine weeks, I had formed trustworthy and respectful relationships with the participants, I had also encountered epiphanies and clarities regarding my own experiences of domestic abuse. Through using the research method observation participation, I was able to observe the body language and facial expressions of the participants alongside witnessing their emotions and participating in conversation. Collectively, my research methods enabled me to gather in-depth, first-hand accounts of the women’s experiences of domestic abuse. When writing the conclusion for my dissertation, I was able to establish that psychological and emotional abuse can be more detrimental to the victim than the physical violence itself. Interestingly, I had identified patterns and trends in the abuser’s behaviour and how it impacts the victim’s response; the victims tend to mimic their abusive partners traits e.g. anger and guilt.
I was able to conclude my dissertation with supporting evidence to credit my original question, through using personal experience and the experience of the wonderful women that participated in my research. Many of the women’s experiences highlighted in my dissertation research corresponded with the Duluth Model thesis embedded in my literature review. I was able to demonstrate how the elements of power and control in the abusive partner behaviour can adversely affect the victim; consequences of mental health issues, substance misuse and changes in victim’s lifestyle and behaviour. Overall, the experience was incredibly insightful and provided me with transferable interpersonal and analytical skills.
Putting the I back into responsibility
As I sit in our ensuite, I gaze around with pride remembering how I built this. I built the room structure before plumbing in a toilet, sink and shower. I tiled the walls and laid the flooring. The only thing I didn’t do was plaster the walls, not really my forte and sometimes we have to recognise our own limitations. A few weeks ago though, I wasn’t admiring a job well done; the shower leaked. Nothing drastic, but nonetheless there would be a small pool of water outside of the shower after use. The problem being that the floor wasn’t level, therefore the shower tray wasn’t level, and this left a gap under the shower door. I’d tried to adjust the frame but had taken it to its limit which meant the door was wobbly. I didn’t think much of the mastic job around the shower either, uneven and already starting to lift slightly in places.
The problem is obvious, the floor is not level, I didn’t build the house so that’s someone else’s fault. There’s not enough compensation in the frame to rectify the first problem, poor shower design if you ask me. I can’t think of an excuse for the mastic debacle.
Now I can sit in the ensuite every morning for as long as I like lamenting others’ poor workmanship and poor design, and I did for a while, but it won’t solve the problem.
I decided to try to fix the issue, after all, in the current climate we do have to try to keep ourselves amused. Thinking about this, I really ought to have made a better job of levelling the shower tray in the first place. Too late now though, it’s bonded in place. I decided to move the shower frame away from the wall slightly, this adjustment was enough to stabilise the door, why I didn’t do this in the first place I can’t say, probably too focused on finishing the job, maybe a bit of laziness crept in. The adjustment also meant that the gap below the door was minimised and this solved the leak. I took all the mastic off around the shower tray and started again. A far better finish was achieved.
In deciding to do something about the problem, I stopped seeing it as a problem, stopped blaming others and stopped thinking about my misfortune. I took responsibility for my own poor workmanship, realising that I had failed to take into account the fact the floor wasn’t level.
Sometimes we spend too much time complaining about problems, finding fault in others, that we fail to see where we might have done better. When we fall short, we blame others or blame circumstances, rarely do we consider that we could have done the job better or handled the situation differently. If we start to take responsibility for our own shortcomings, then the world becomes a better place. Putting the ‘I’ back into ‘responsibility’ really is quite empowering. ‘When fate hands us a lemon, let’s try to make a lemonade’ (Carnegie, 1998:185).
Carnegie, D (1998) How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, London: Vermilion