Bachelor's students reprimanded for offensive app group

A strong warning was issued a couple of weeks ago by the TU/e Executive Board to a group of Bachelor's students who were exchanging hurtful and insulting texts and cartoons in a private WhatsApp group. The matter came to light after a couple of their fellow students complained to a study counselor. The group has now been disbanded and if this activity resumes the university will look into the possibility of lodging a report with the authorities.

According to a press statement issued by the Executive Board, the customary process in such matters was followed. Board spokesperson Barend Pelgrim states that a special appeals board spoke “paternally” and “very forcefully” with those students acting as the administrators of this private WhatsApp group and with its most active participants.

In the hearings the students stated both their participation in the group and their part in the sharing of material. In view of the private nature of the app group, the students stated that they had no intention of hurting or intimidating others. Pelgrim: “The group involved is a mixed one, and it has been established that there was no involvement by any social society or study association.”

Pelgrim does not wish to say exactly how large the group was, nor whether the material shared already existed or was created by the group members themselves. The press statement also mentions that the Executive Board finds the use of hurtful texts and images about groups in society unacceptable. It does not tolerate any such activity causing other members of the TU/e community to feel intimated. 

Ultimatum

“This university must be a pleasant and safe place for everyone to study and work. We condemn such forms of expression and we take action against such an attitude,” states the Executive Board. Both verbally and in writing, the students involved have been given a warning, and an ultimatum has been delivered. If such conduct or similar expressions are reported again, TU/e will take appropriate measures. These might include a campus ban for part of the academic year or exclusion from the use of TU/e facilities. In addition, the university would look into whether the matter could be reported to the authorities.

In an interview yesterday with the Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau (HOP), Professor Evangelia Demerouti, Chief Diversity Officer at TU/e since September 1st, mentioned ‘a special web page on which students make jokes about others’. It is now evident that this is the reprimanded app group.

The interview with Demerouti was prompted by a survey held by UK, the news site run by the University of Groningen, of more than three hundred international students, which drew the response that in the past three months 42 percent of them had heard negative jokes or remarks from students, staff or colleagues. 13.6 percent said they had been approached in an openly racist manner.

Demerouti said that as a Greek woman she often hears jokes about her foreign origins, for example about borrowing money. “We don't all laugh at [such] jokes, especially if they are persistently made to exclude people,” says Demerouti. “You laugh the first time and once more, and then enough is enough.” She also says that she has to work twice as hard to prove herself. People approach her less often to work cooperatively, says Demerouti, “because we don't share a past”. Fortunately this topic can now be discussed openly, she says. “What we want is an environment in which everyone feels comfortable. I don't need to eat bitterballen to belong, but I must be able to excel here and pursue my work.”

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