Walk-in café Ukraine ‘not about politics, but sharing your story’

| Marie Klinge

To provide the UT community with a space to share their thoughts and emotions about the war in Ukraine, the Student Union and the Human Resources department turned the Global Lounge in the Bastille into a ‘Walk-in Café’ last week. While attendance has been relatively low, Student Union board member Godelieve Brasz sees its added value.

All students and employees of the UT are welcome to come during the opening hours of the Bastille to talk to others, share feelings, and to find the right support. ‘It is not about discussing politics but sharing your story and getting whatever lies heavy on your heart off your chest,’ clarifies Brasz.

Professional help

Professional guidance support is present every day, at least from 12:30 until 13:30. They are UT employees such as study advisors and Look-After-Your-Friend trainers and non-UT employees, like social workers and a collaborating student pastor (on Wednesdays during a Peace Vigil). ‘It might be scary to just start talking, that is why we have the professional help there. They can start the conversation, offer emotional support, and can help in finding supporting facilities.’

So far, attendance was ‘quite low, but that was expected’, according to Brasz. ‘I heard that at the UT, Ukrainian and Russian people, but also students and employees who speak those languages, are a really close community already, which is why they maybe do not need the Walk-in Café.’

‘Feeling of being connected’

Nevertheless, Brasz points out that feedback has been generally positive. According to her, the HR department received feedback from an employee who did not feel to make use of the Walk-In Café, but did appreciate the initiate and felt heard and acknowledged. And the Student Union received feedback from a Russian speaking student in the Global Lounge, who said: ‘I feel me being there is very important’. Brasz admires this motivation: ‘It is cool that they mentioned that they feel obligated out of a feeling of being connected. They know the community and feel they can be there for other students.’

The organizers are aware that some students and employees are afraid of negative consequences in Russia. ‘It is safer to lay low. Only come when you are comfortable. Speak up but be safe’, says Brasz. And she emphasizes: ‘Everyone is welcome. The University is not against Russia, but against the acts of Putin. We are not going to drop Russian students and employees.’

‘More openness’

The Walk-in Café will be open until at least Friday this week. Brasz also sees more potential in similar initiatives: ‘The Global Lounge could become a general meet-up location, to talk to each other and to spread a community feeling. This way we can achieve more openness about concerns.’