You will have seen the news that the University has sanctioned a Men’s Support Network allegedly “in response to a need that we have recognised for both Staff and Students”. Details are available at: https://demontfortuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/DMUHome/staff_news/Pages/October2020/New-DMU-Men-Staff-Network.aspx
The aim given is “to provide a safe space in which men are comfortable in sharing, listening and supporting their fellow male colleagues”, and the Network claims to have a focus upon “anything from mental health, to defining your place in the world.”
Whilst we very much welcome the institution’s move to address the very real concerns its staff have around their mental health and wellbeing in the current HE environment, we are concerned this Network is poorly conceived, displaying a distinct and worrisome lack of clarity around its aims, objectives, proposed membership and governance. We are alarmed by this development for a number of interconnected reasons.
Firstly, we have seen the rise of all men groups in relation to men’s rights networks, which themselves have a misogynist history that points back, for instance, to issues like Gamergate and fathers for justice, and that connect to far right agendas emerging from online spaces like QAnon and 4Chan. These histories tend to work to deny material, structural and cultural practices that underpin inequalities. As a result, they work to legitimise such inequalities.
Second, we are concerned that this has emerged at a time when the University is claiming to be making a cultural change, as an acknowledgement of past failings. We have raised with you, in an email of 25 August relating to the treatment of Professor Heather Savigny at the University. We stated at the time that DMU should be at the forefront of tackling sexual harassment and violence. Overt support for this Network simply reinforces how Higher Education works explicitly to deny structural oppression and violence. In part, this is why we are concerned about the idea that this Network is for “like minded” male members of staff, and this demands clarification of the specific positions being reinforced here. Additionally, we are concerned by use of the term “men”, and we question whether only cis-men are welcome to join this Network?
Third, the announcement mentions that the group has emerged in response to “a need that we have recognised for both staff and students.” We would like to enquire as to what these needs are, and why, if they are gendered (given the institution has not simultaneously established a women’s group) women staff members are denied access to this support.
Fourth, we are aware that work is being undertaken in several schools in support of Athena Swan accreditation. We cannot see how such work can align with overt support for this Network, for which we have seen no recognised need. In fact, the reality is that the institution is having to push equality and diversity, racial equality, decolonising and Athena Swan agendas, precisely because academia is loaded towards the needs of white men. As a result, we are incredulous that the claim is being made that there are no safe spaces for men in the institution.
Fifth, we find the idea that untrained individuals might be providing mental health support for peers to be highly problematic, and out-of-step with the institution’s own approach to, for instance, work-based stress and the use of occupational health.
A poorly planned space has the potential to do much more harm than good, not only alienating women workers at DMU, but also compounding existing inequities amongst male employees. As a result, we believe it is a travesty that this has been officially supported by the University, and we call for its immediate disbanding. The idea that there is a need for a men-only space inside institutions that are dominated by men is repugnant to us. We question how this can lead to the kinds of culture change that the Interim Executive Board have been discussing. We are all in the COVID crisis together, it is only by working together, and not by setting divided voices against one another that we can act together as people, whether men, women and non-binary.
The UCU Committee.