‘Transgressive behaviour is so wide-ranging that there is no uniform approach’

| Stan Waning

Transgressive behaviour is a problem that also occurs at the UT. Moreover, part of the community does not know where to report it, research by U-Today has shown. How is that possible? Three UT staff members involved in the university support structure answer this question.

Photo by: Enith Vlooswijk

Erwin Medendorp, Integral Safety Manager

‘The results of the survey come as no surprise to me. They’re in line with surveys conducted at other universities and civil society organisations. I don’t see any major differences between the transgressive behaviour of students and that of staff members; both cross the line. Just take a look at the media: it’s happening everywhere. However, the approach taken by the university does differ between staff and students. This calls for a cultural change that has already been initiated, but it will take time. It’s impossible to prevent transgressive behaviour, because there will always be people who cross the line.

I would like to somewhat qualify the impression that UT staff and students are unable to find the right support structure. After all, people won’t bother to find out where to turn if they don’t need help at that moment. But when victims of transgressive behaviour have no idea where to turn, that’s when I get worried. What helps is that we continue to give visibility to this issue. Transgressive behaviour is so wide-ranging that there is no uniform approach.

‘Consultations are currently underway within the support structure to look into the possibility of establishing one central point of contact for complaints related to this issue. The question is whether this would make it easier to help someone. My greatest concern is making sure that people who are faced with transgressive behaviour are heard and receive help. Victims often feel alone, but in many cases, it was already clear to bystanders that something was wrong. That’s why something has to change.’

Sterre Mkatini & Linda Pasqual-van der Langen, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Office

Mkatini: ‘What these results confirm above all is that transgressive behaviour does, if fact, occur at the UT. Examples of this kind of behaviour always revolve around social safety. The essence of this issue concerns everyone, but there are also differences between employees and students. Different methods, a different approach, but also different regulations. What I find unfortunate is that it always takes a major publicity scandal like The Voice or a movement like #MeToo to draw attention to this topic. As a community, we have to think about how we can keep this awareness alive at all times.’

Pasqual: ‘Communication plays an important role in this. For example, if we talk about a zero-tolerance policy; what exactly does that mean and how do we apply it? Also, how do we act accordingly? These are important questions. We’re currently in the process of setting up a working group in which social safety will be the main focus. This will be followed by an awareness campaign, which should provide more clarity on where to turn and what we mean by transgressive behaviour and social safety. In this campaign, we will also take a critical look at the gateway or entry point to help and how we can improve it.’

Han Warmelink, ombudsperson

‘The fact that transgressive behaviour occurs at the UT is beyond dispute. For employees, this almost automatically leads to difficulties in the workplace. That’s where I come in, as ombudsperson. I’m a neutral intermediary, unlike confidential advisers or student counsellors, who are biased and will take the side of the person who speaks up. That’s why I’m not called in until later in the process, which means I almost exclusively deal with cases involving employees, not students.

The UT has a large and broad support structure. Just last week, we met for a consultation. We talked about the Social Safety Hotline set up by the Vrije Universiteit. But it’s still not entirely clear how an organisation should tackle this problem. Take D66 and Volt, for example, and look how they’re struggling with this issue. It might be argued that there should be one central point of contact for complaints related to transgressive behaviour. For students, there is actually already one in place: the red desk at the Vrijhof building. However, you can also look at it another way. The question ‘where do I turn’ shouldn’t lie with the student or the employee at all. It’s the organisation’s responsibility to guide someone in the right direction and help them.’