Vanita Sundaram, Professor of Education at the University of York talks to us about her work on sexual violence in educational contexts.
Tell us about yourself: who are you and what do you do?
My name is Vanita Sundaram and I am a Professor of Education at the University of York, working on gender-related harassment and violence across the education lifecourse.
What’s your involvement with gender activism? Does your work intersect with gender activism? How?
My work is increasingly applied in its focus, as I seek to use the fundamental and theoretical knowledge we have about gender-related harassment and violence among children, young people and young adults, to inform prevention and intervention work in educational settings. I have used my work to develop critical consciousness-raising clubs about gendered and sexual pressures facing young people in secondary school, as well as working with local survivor organisations to develop educational programmes about sexual violence for university settings. I am interested not only in the causes of gender-related harassment and violence and the multiple ways in which children and young people encounter such practices, but in working with children and young people themselves to develop educational interventions which can challenge the values, attitudes and cultures which allow such behaviours to flourish in educational settings. Part of this endeavour involves engaging young people with gender activism, with making visible the gender and sexual norms that govern and shape their identities, expectations and practices in and outside of school.
How does or could The Shiloh Project relate to your work and activism?
I am hugely excited to be involved with the Shiloh Project. The focus on rape culture in/and religious imagery, and the myriad of ways in which this is produced and sustained through popular culture is immediately relevant to my own work on young people’s experiences of gender-related violence. Popular culture is one of many interfaces through which young people’s understandings and expectations of gender and sexuality is negotiated, including in relation to representations of harassment and violence. Together with the Directors of the Shiloh Project, we are developing work on young people’s interactions with representations of violence in religious imagery used in popular culture. I am particularly excited by the intersectional approach we will take in understanding how particular notions of gender, race/ethnicity, class, and sexuality are produced through religious imagery in popular culture. This also links to current research I am doing on developing an intersectional approach to violence prevention with Professor Alison Phipps (Sussex) and Dr Tiffany Page (Cambridge).
How are you going to get active to resist gender-based violence and inequality?
My research is directly related to challenging gender-related violence, through fundamental research on young people’s experiences and understandings of violence, as well as through applied research on prevention and intervention initiatives. I am keen to develop this applied focus, as it crosses over with activist work in school settings.