The Politics of Public Whisper Networks
Esha Datanwala, Class of 2020 This piece is the first amongst our newly instated theme for
By Anushree Pratap (UG ‘23) and Ishita Ahuja (UG ‘23)
A survey conducted from August 6 to 9 by The Edict on UG23’s (Undergraduate Batch of 2023’s) awareness of Committee Against Sexual Harassment (CASH) policies and sexual harassment (SH) exposed the shortcomings of their Orientation Week (O-Week) experience. The survey collected a total of 85 responses in a batch of 548 students. UG ‘24 (Undergraduate Batch of 2024) being most alike UG ‘23 in terms of an online orientation to Ashoka may experience a similar ineffective introduction to SH culture on campus if no changes are implemented.
After completing 2 online semesters at Ashoka University, most students from the survey are not aware of the fundamental elements of CASH policy that provide assistance in cases of SH.
51 of the 84 (60.7%) UG ’23 student responses do not know where to find Ashoka’s CASH Policy. 60 of the 83 (72.3%) responses do not know the functions of the CASH Support Group (CSG) and 70 of the 84 (83.3%) UG ‘23 responses do not know how to get in touch with even one member of the CSG.
During O-Week, a virtual fresher’s primary introduction to SH awareness at Ashoka is through the CASH workshops. The survey asked the respondents to rate how successfully the workshop covered and addressed the prevalence of SH at Ashoka on a scale of 1 (least helpful) to 5 (extremely helpful).
“The workshop wasn’t bad by any means, it just didn’t depict how prevalent SH is at Ashoka and how to navigate these scenarios,” writes an anonymous UG ‘23 respondent.
A separate survey for cohort leaders for the batch of UG ’23 was conducted by The Edict which dealt with questions on matters relating to SH in cohort meetings. Out of 111 Cohort Leaders for UG ‘23, a total of 13 responded to the survey.
4 of the 13 (30.7%) Cohort Leader (CL) respondents report that their cohort members brought up issues with the CASH workshops or people conducting the workshops.
While 69 out of 81 (85.1%) UG ‘23 respondents thought the people taking the SH workshops conducted them in a sensitive manner, 41 out of 81 (50.6%) respondents did not feel comfortable in reaching out to them with further questions on SH or anything related to sex, gender and sexuality.
One CL who chooses to remain anonymous writes, “we relayed [the issues brought to us by cohort members] to the SG (Student Government) – this was the extent of the action we took, since no better alternative was presented to us at that point.”
Additionally, freshers are given space to discuss matters of SH or CASH in cohort meetings. However, only 42 of the 82 (51.2%) respondents say that SH was discussed by their CLs in cohort meetings despite CLs going through CASH training sessions.
According to some CL respondents, a cause of this was the unpreparedness of CLs due to insufficient training by the Cohort Leadership Program (CLP) held by the SG. “I honestly feel that there are so many ways that one can bring [SH and CASH policies] up – but they need to be taught to leaders in their training sessions. It’s not easy to come up with balanced ways to do this on our own,” says Yookta, a CL for the batch of UG ’23.
9 of the 13 (69.2%) CL respondents agree that discussions on SH should be made mandatory in an informal setting. Manjima Gupta, a CL for the batch of UG ‘23, explains that freshers in “larger meetings may not feel as safe to ask questions”. A CL who chooses to remain anonymous mentions that CLs should “discuss general tips on drinking and other things on campus which “do not happen per say [sic] and hence aren’t included in the program.”
77 out of 81 (95.1%) UG ‘23 respondents agree that there should be a CASH workshop on healthy power dynamics at Ashoka.
Freshers lack critical knowledge about SH awareness on campus due to the insufficient information provided to them. From a list of actions that constitute SH stated by the Sexual Harassment Climate Survey (SHCS), there is a small number of students who do not consider some of them as SH, which could lead to potentially unreported cases.
Students were asked to rate how well discussions in CASH workshops were remembered on a scale of 1 (I have forgotten everything) to 5 (I remember completely.)
An anonymous UG ‘23 respondent writes that they cannot find the handbook on CASH and resending it before campus reopens would be helpful.
Atharvi Bais, a CL for the UG ‘23 batch, points out the importance of holding frequent discussions on SH in cohort meetings, saying that “one session in the middle of million [sic] other ones does not work.”
When asked what they would have done differently with their cohorts if given the opportunity, a CL who chooses to remain anonymous says, “I would have liked to explain the kind of harassment one can face in clubs and societies, how it may or may not be easily identifiable, and what to do about it and who to approach if it were to happen.”
12 out of 13 (92.3%) CL respondents agree that sensitization of SH in clubs, ministries, and societies must be included in cohort discussions.
In a virtual setting, clubs and societies have become a primary mode of peer interaction for many students. This is done through online club meetings that often merge into informal meetings that club members have. Such trends highlight the increased responsibility of clubs and societies in delineating grievance redressal mechanisms and SH policies during O-Week to allow freshers to make informed decisions about joining clubs.
When cases of SH in clubs and societies come to light, freshers may be caught unaware:
Out of the 71 student respondents, only 17 (23.9%) are aware of their club/society’s SH policy.
An anonymous UG ‘23 respondent writes, “I was a leader in a club!! And I did not know about our SH policies and my Head was not helpful at all and super unapproachable.”
80 out of 82 (97.6%) UG ‘23 respondents agree that virtual harassment should have been included during O-Week.
Some respondents give suggestions of what to include, such as: online class etiquette like usernames and chats, consent and comfort in taking pictures and turning cameras on, how to navigate student-run independent social media pages such as confession pages, cyberbullying, notifying students about sexual harassers at Ashoka, objectification of genders, etc.
A Cohort Leader who chooses to remain anonymous adds, “I think it would have been important to point out ways in which sexual harassment can take place online as well, and not just in a physical space”. Atharvi Bais, a CL for the UG ‘23 batch, says that the CLP for the batch of UG ‘23 had “absolutely no provisions about dealing with SH online. The laws aren’t that clear to the incoming batch. They never know about the shortcomings of CASH as an organization either.”
As UG ‘24 witnesses UG ‘23’s social media experience, looking into the incoming batch’s exposure to SH before O-Week could help gauge their knowledge on the subject and highlight their perceptions of SH on Ashoka’s campus. Furthermore, reflecting on how the virtual experiences of students of UG ‘23 shape the structure of their cohort meetings for UG ‘24 is another step forward.
(Note: This survey exposes the shortcomings of O-Week SH workshops in portraying the reality of SH at Ashoka. The report aims to prevent negative implications for students of future batches in both online and offline settings.
The survey has limitations in that it did not segregate answers based on gender and sexual orientation; this limits us to collating general response data. The unspecified nature of the information may be non-inclusive of all students’ feedback, leading to blanket suggestions and implications. Additionally, the survey focused solely on students’ introduction to CASH at Ashoka and did not account for the direct and/or indirect SH exposure a student comes across throughout their time at Ashoka.)