Problematic Language

Speech callouts

Problematic language includes sexist, homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic taunts as well as harmful 'banter'.

Banter is a loose expression covering what otherwise might be abusive behaviour on the basis that everyone participates willingly and on an equal level. It usually refers to the trading of jokes, insults, images, and actions. Using the word 'banter' can sometimes be a way of justifying or minimising the impact of negative behaviour.


How people try to justify banter

  • "But that's just how things are"

Courts have consistently stated that even if banter is considered "normal" or "expected" in a group setting, it can amount to discrimination and harassment if anyone finds it demeaning.


  • "I honestly didn't mean to offend anyone. I'm not sexist, it was a joke"

Doesn't matter. Even if you are "joking" and meant no offense, if offense is taken then you could be subject to disciplinary measures. The law considers the impact on and perception of the recipient, not your meaning or intention.


  • "It was private / in a closed group"

Even when using privacy settings, posts can be copied and forwarded to others.


What does it look like?

  • Gender: "Undo a few buttons at the bar and you might get a free drink"
  • Class: "Your dad works for my dad."
  • Appearance: "had another takeaway last night?"
  • Sexuality: "That shirt is so gay."
  • Sexism -"A guy at my university said 'nice arse love' and his friend shouted 'weyy'."

Possible Consequences

Your University place may be withdrawn if misconduct is proven. If your degree is linked to professional standards, your 'fitness to practice' may be under review, putting your university place and future career at risk.

Online comments are public and may be seen by future employers who will be judging your suitability as a potential employee and ambassador for their organisation.


Remember #HasJustineLandedYet?

A successful US public relations executive lost her job after tweeting a racist message about AIDS in Africa. By the time she had landed, her tweet had gone viral and her company had condemned her behaviour, pledging to 'take appropriate action'. 



If you have been affected by someone using problematic language and want to talk to someone, get in touch with our Information & Advice Service.