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The Hidden Curriculum. Sexual harassment among university students in Sweden

Publicerad:5 februari

Jack Palmieri har undersökt individuella och organisatoriska faktorer i samband med utsatthet för sexuella trakasserier bland studenter vid Lunds universitet.


Jack Palmieri


Professor Anette Agardh, Lunds universitet Markus Larsson, Lunds universitet


Professor Carmen Vives-Cases, University of Alicante

Disputerat vid

Lunds universitet



Abstract in English

Background: The #metoo and #akademiuppropet media campaigns brought into stark relief the ongoing issue of workplace sexual harassment. Previous research shows this to be a pernicious and prevalent problem with severe consequences for individuals and organisations. Universities are complex spaces that can be considered as a workplace for students and as a site where boundaries between formal education and social activities can become blurred. They are also sites where strict hierarchies and power structures exist. Few large-scale studies have been conducted on sexual harassment in university settings in Sweden, with existing research lacking in comprehensiveness and academic rigour. The overall aim of this thesis was to examine individual and organizational factors associated with exposure to sexual harassment among students at Lund University, to contribute new and up-to-date knowledge in this area.

Methods: Papers I and II analysed cross-sectional data from a self-administered survey completed by 8960 students at Lund University in Sweden. Paper I was a validation of a modified instrument for measuring psychosocial study environment for students that utilises exploratory factor analysis and Cronbach’s alpha. Paper II examined associations between study environment and exposure to sexual harassment using logistic regression and synergy indexes. Paper III was a Grounded Theory study that used data from 7 focus group discussions conducted among 28 students at Lund University to explore conceptualisations and organisational structures as explanatory mechanisms for sexual harassment.

Results: The main finding of Paper I was that the modified instrument for measuring demand, control, and support among students is a reliable and valid tool. Paper II applied this tool to the question of sexual harassment and found that high demands and low control were independently associated with higher odds of being exposed to sexual harassment and that high study strain (combination of high demands and low control) could account for 14% and 15% of study environment sexual harassment for females and males, respectively. Paper III highlighted that although students were aware of sexual harassment at the university, they were conflicted as to interpreting and assigning responsibility on a continuum from individual to organisational. This confusion permeated every aspect of understanding and responding to sexual harassment.

Conclusions: To work proactively to prevent sexual harassment, and to create systems for redress in the university setting requires a multilevel approach that works to reduce situations of high strain for students and improves support from lecturers. Simultaneously, the approach must generate trust in university systems through establishing common understandings of sexual harassment, clear and accountable pathways for reporting, and transparency of outcome.

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