Cascading training to change: exploring the potential of student-led approaches to prevention, intervention and response to sexual violence

7 December 2018
11.00am - 1.00pm
Deakin Downtown, Level 12, Tower 2 Collins Square,
727 Collins Street, Docklands 3008

Professor Vanita Sundaram (York University) discusses a project funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England which sought to embed an institution-wide approach to addressing sexual violence.

Event details

The project specifically aimed to deliver training to student leaders within a university setting who would be responsible for delivering this training further to incoming students, in order to understand the possibilities afforded by a cascade model of training.

A three-pronged training model was developed which centred around:

  • prevention (working to transform norms and expectations around appropriate gendered practices);
  • intervention (equipping students with skills to intervene safely in situations of harassment, violence or abuse); and
  • response (equipping students to respond supportively to disclosures of sexual harassment or violence).

The project built directly on existing resources developed and evaluated for staff-facing training at different universities in the UK. The training programme was delivered to over 1000 student leaders who, in turn, cascaded their knowledge to over 4000 incoming students.

The focus of Professor Sundaram’s paper is on the potential for effectuating culture change through student-led approaches to sexual violence. She draws on questionnaires and interviews conducted with participants in the training programme to understand their views on this model of violence prevention, as well as to explore how this type of training can transform people’s understandings of what constitutes sexual harassment and violence and their attitudes towards these practices.

She argues that significant knowledge gains can be achieved through participation in this training, and that student leaders are an important group to consider for delivering such training within university contexts. However, we must remain cognisant of the limitations of such training in terms of its potential to bring about long-term attitudinal and values change, as well as recognising the deeply embedded expectations and norms held around issues of sexual harassment and violence in the student (as well as the staff) population.

Professor Vanita Sundaram

Professor Vanita Sundaram

Vanita Sundaram is a Professor of Education at York University, where she has worked since 2006. She completed both her undergraduate degree (Sociology) and her MA (Women’s Studies) at the University of Kent at Canterbury, before completing her PhD in Public Health at the University of Copenhagen. She then went on to hold a five-year research post at the Danish National Institute of Public Health. She was primarily involved in research on gender-specific health effects of violence and sexual abuse, which was also the main focus of her doctoral research, conducted alongside a research assistantship.

Since joining the Department of Education at York, Vanita's research has focused on sexual harassment and gender-based violence in education settings; the development of research-informed prevention models; methodologies for conducting research on harassment and violence with children and young people; and the content and role of sex and relationships education.

She is a member of the Centre for Research in Education and Social Justice and is keen to supervise research students working in any of the areas outlined above, as well as other issues related to education and social inequality. Her current research projects focus on: sexual violence in higher education; sexual harassment and violence in schools; developing culture-change initiatives to challenge violence and harassment in educational contexts.

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Key information

Date and time

7 December 2018
11.00am - 13.00pm


Deakin Downtown,
Level 12, Tower 2 Collins Square,

727 Collins Street, Docklands 3008