Response to #MeToo: The UT plans to get an ombudsperson

| Michaela Nesvarova

As a response to the #MeToo movement and related issues, the UT aims to get an independent ombudsperson. In January, the UT will also launch a new website on integrity and an ‘active bystander training’. These plans were presented at today’s meeting organized by the FFNT (Female Faculty Network Twente).

The lunch discussion with the title ‘What have we learned from #MeToo at the UT?’ took place today in the DesignLab. Three UT speakers presented new developments at the university, all related to social integrity and sexual and power abuse.

three speakers

Nicole Torka: policy advisor on work, organization & health at the HR department. She is responsible for issues related to social integrity.

Melanie Braamhaar: one of four UT’s confidential advisors, available to all employees who wish to (confidentially) share their experience with sexual harassment, aggression, violence or discrimination at the workplace.

Minke Klomp: confidential advisor for students and a PhD Counsellor, providing individual coaching and counselling.

Ombudsperson

To offer better support for possible victims of inappropriate behavior at the workplace, the UT is working on introducing an ombudsperson. ‘We will search for one ombudsperson for staff members and students,’ informed Nicole Torka. ‘The ombudsperson will be based at the university, but work completely independently. He or she will not fall under any department and only report to the Executive Board.’

Unlike confidential advisors, who can only listen and offer examples of solutions to the victims, the ombudsperson will be able to conduct research into the issue and take action. He or she could, for example, look through emails and talk to other people to gather information. According to Torka, the UT aims to hire someone for this position within a few months.

Integrity website

The UT is also working on a new website dedicated to social and scientific integrity, planned to be available in January. It should contain the new code of conduct, as well as information on how UT students and employees should proceed if they experience or witness any unacceptable behavior – referring to sexual harassment, aggression, violence and discrimination. In relation, it will offer a way to contact a confidential advisor.

‘Thanks to the #MeToo discussion, people are much more aware of us,’ said one of the confidential advisors Melanie Braamhaar, who also presented some details of why people usually approach her and her colleagues. ‘In a two year period between 2015 and 2017, 47 employees reached out to us. The most common reason for consultation were collaboration issues, especially between employees and their supervisors. Almost none of the cases were related to sexual harassment.’  

Active bystander training

To provide guidance to people who witness inappropriate behavior, the UT will test out ‘an active bystander training’, informed Nicole Torka. ‘We will start with trainings in January and February. It will take one and half hours. At first, it will only involve a few pilot groups, but perhaps one day it might be for everyone. The issue is availability – there are only a handful of coaches and nowadays nearly every university in the Netherlands is interested in such a training.’