University inquiry launched after staff allegedly called female rugby team ‘fat girls’

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University inquiry launched after staff allegedly called female rugby team ‘fat girls’

Imperial College London has a culture of ‘deeply ingrained misogyny’ says the new report

Imperial College London has launched an inquiry investigating ‘ingrained misogyny’ and a negative competitive culture, after their female athletes were left humiliated by sexist comments.

The university’s women’s rugby team faced sexist abuse from drunk male students when they played a tournament with the men’s team at Varsity last year. Buses that transported the students to Twickenham to play their match left before the women’s final, meaning the team was forced to play to an empty stadium.

Afterwards, some of the women players even reported hearing one of Imperial’s sports staff discussing transport arrangements on a walkie-talkie, saying: “I don’t care how those fat girls get home”.

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The athletes had to make their own way back to Imperial’s campus on the other side of London, while male students were afforded the luxury of travelling back early with other students in the fleet of buses Imperial had hired. Now the university has pledged to transform itself and stamp out sexist behaviour off the back of the year-long investigation.

The inquiry was led by Alison Phipps, a gender studies expert from the University of Sussex. She found that the high pressure to achieve excellence at the competitive university fostered a negative competitive environment, where research and revenue was valued more than the welfare of students and staff. She also found that the “ingrained misogyny” at Imperial was “so deep it had become normal”.

A summary of the report said: “Many of the participants linked it with the elite white masculinity of the majority population, although a few examples of unacceptable behaviour by female staff and students were also cited.

“There were many examples given to the researchers of bullying and discriminatory behaviour towards staff and students. These examples predominantly reflected hierarchies in work or study arrangements.”

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Imperial appointed its first female president two years ago but in terms of student numbers it remains male dominated, with up to three times as many men as there are women studying there. Phipps’ report recommended that Imperial should now team up with a Humanities driven university to change the toxic culture, and to make more diverse appointments to its council, which is currently dominated by white men.

Imperial provost James Stirling said: “We want everyone at the college to feel supported, respected and able to excel. That is why we are committed to ensuring gender equality and eradicating sexist behaviour wherever we can, at all levels.”

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