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Joining up well-being and sexual misconduct data and policy in HE: ‘to stand in the gap’ as a feminist approach

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JournalSociological review
DateSubmitted - 20 Jul 2020
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Aug 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print (current) - 4 Oct 2021
Number of pages18
Early online date4/10/21
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

This article joins up evidence and policy relating to two linked concerns in higher education (HE) that are treated as unrelated: postgraduate research student (PGR) well-being, and staff sexual misconduct towards students. Against the standard methodology of systematic reviews, we build on feminist approaches to apply a ‘re-performance’ approach to the review. Re-performance re-enacts established methods, contextualising previous analysis through ethnographic and desk-based research, exposing gaps in evidence, analysis, representation, care and policy. We reveal how aspects of PGR experience, particularly the cultures that engender ill-being and enable sexual misconduct, are silenced in evidence-making. Our ‘re-performance’ uncovers how this occurs in three ways, through: the (mis)construction of the ‘typical student’ in well-being literatures; the (mis)construction of the phenomenon of ‘well-being’ exacerbated by generic survey tools focusing on a medicalised model of mental health; the (mis)construction of HE institutions as integrated, agential and ethical, aided by the fragmentation of administrative systems and knowledge production between disciplines. Together, these organising modes conceal lack of care, staff sexual misconduct and poor well-being. From these findings, specific policy issues are identified: the risks to giving more responsibility to supervisors for PGR well-being; a pattern of institutional listening while silencing; and the need to explore feedback loops between patterns of vulnerability to ill-being and staff sexual misconduct. Through our analysis, the article demonstrates how to ‘stand in the gaps’ – between knowledges; and between evidence and action; between policy and care – in a way that can be generalised across policy domains, epistemologies and policy-making contexts.

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