The Impact of Gendered Violence on Higher Education Access and Participation

Year: 2021

Author: Burke, Penny Jane, Coffey, Julia

Type of paper: Symposium

Gendered violence is a global "shadow" pandemic with significant implications for educational access and participation and has intensified since the onslaught of COVID-19 (UN Women 2020).  With the expectation to address gender equity, universities are challenged to understand and respond to the significance of gendered violence in the context of higher education (HE). Yet, there is little attention to this in research or policy terms, aside from more explicit attention to gendered violence on campus (see for example Human Rights Commission 2017). Drawing on feminist theories, this paper will explore the lived experiences of HE in the context of the wider social pandemic of gendered violence, focusing on themes of identity-formation, affect and becoming. Equity in HE practices have been extensively critiqued for the deficit discourses that pathologise individual students and ignore, or even at times conceal, the multi-dimensional inequalities that profoundly shape HE access and participation (see Burke, 2000, 2012; Leathwood and Connell, 2003; O’Shea, 2016). This research considers how such deficit discourses engage with problematic notions of victimhood to reproduce individualised, monodimensional and oversimplistic explanations of gender equity in HE. Assumptions that HE access is predominately a neoliberal project of improving the individual self, outside of power relations and gendered inequalities, will be interrogated in relation to the shadow pandemic and corporatized, gendered HE spaces. The research locates HE as a key site of analysis to consider its role in grappling with multi-layered personal and social histories of gendered violence, situating HE as a space of possibility for both the social reproduction and the social transformation of complex gendered inequalities. The research attends to the following key questions: What forms of gendered violence have university students experienced?  How does gendered violence affect university access and participation in Australia? What are students’ lived experiences of higher education in the context of prior, present and/or ongoing experiences of gendered violence? How do universities understand and/or respond to gendered violence in the context of commitments to gender equity, if at all? The paper will present our analysis of 25 in-depth interviews with students at one case study Australian university.  Drawing from feminist insights, we analyse their lived and embodied experiences of gendered inequalities not in terms of individual ‘overcoming’ but of residual, personal, collective and ongoing dimensions of struggle for gender equity.