The Amnesty activist team in Enschede, which currently involves four UT students, is part of a larger campaign focused on sexual violence among students. As part of this outreach, they are asking educational institutes, including the UT, to sign a manifesto and commit to protection of sexual violence victims.
UT students and members of the Amnesty team Enschede, Melina Kugelmann and Michelle Meijer, explain why they are campaigning for changes at the university.
Why do you think it is important to raise awareness for this issue?
Meijer: ‘We are both students and we see that the culture surrounding sexual consent is not healthy. Among students, in some associations and in student life in general, respect for women isn’t always there. There is a lot to learn if it comes to sexual consent and alcohol.’
Kugelmann: ‘We need to open up the conversation about consent and raise awareness about sexual violence. Many people assume that a person who doesn’t want to have sex should just say “no”; but we think you should ask for a clear “yes” instead. You should not just expect the person to say no, because it is not always possible for them. It can be very hard to do.’
Have you asked the UT to also sign the manifesto?
Meijer: ‘Yes, we have reached out to the Executive Board a couple of days ago and invited them to talk to us about this. We hope they are open to it.’
What changes do you hope to see at the University of Twente?
Meijer: ‘We want to establish a community where sexual consent is normalized, where every community member feels responsible for preventing sexual violence. We want a clear place for people to turn to. We’d also like to educate students about sexual violence, offer workshops and teach them how to respond if they are in a situation with undesired sexual advances.’
Kugelmann: ‘We’d like the UT to hire trained staff, such as psychologists and confidential advisors, who specialize in this topic. And train staff on how to respond to possible violence. We also think rules surrounding sexual consent should be included in the university’s code of conduct. Information on how to deal with this issue needs to become clear and publicly available.’
Do you think that the information isn’t clear at the moment?
Meijer: ‘Yes, it seems to us that students don’t now where to find help or report incidents. It’s important that universities make this more accessible. Even if a student knows where to turn to, the step to go to a psychologist’s office is often too big for them.’
What can the university do to change this?
Kugelmann: ‘Having an open conversation can already help. It can help break the stigma and allow students to reach out for help easier. We could also provide every new student with the information on where to turn as soon as they begin their studies. Students might not expect a university to provide such a support, so it is important to inform them.’
Meijer: ‘Changing this and helping victims better is also beneficial for the university. If students know there is a good structure in place, it is beneficial for the university’s reputation. Moreover, victims often suffer and their experience can directly impact their academic performance, which is not good for the university either. It’s important that the university shows it cares about sexual violence and consent.’