The death of George Floyd in the US has ignited mass protests against discrimination and racism in the Netherlands as well. Lara Hofstra, who was appointed Student Diversity Officer at TU/e three weeks ago, knows about the situation at other Dutch educational institutions, where students fiercely debate the issue on social media and involve their own institutions. “But I’ve read nothing about it in relation to TU/e,” she says. “I know that our students too are currently widely debating this issue. But I don’t see any of the anger in those discussions I see in Leiden and Amsterdam, for example. At our university, it seems to be more about an awareness of these problems. But examples of misconduct within TU/e are all but absent. I’ve only seen one so far.”
However, the issue of discrimination and racism have featured on Hofstra’s agenda for much longer. “Long before I was appointed Diversity Officer in June. What matters to me is the question how we can further increase social safety for students at TU/e. I already concerned myself with this issue within the Student Sports Center, now I want to see how we can accomplish this university wide.”
Hofstra discussed it last week with Marloes Coolen, chair of Compositum, the umbrella body of the three student social associations in Eindhoven. Compositum is currently working on a plan to appoint confidential counsellors within the Eindhoven Studenten Corps, SSRE and Demos. Coolen says that consultations about this have been taking place for some time now. “The National Chamber of Associations (LKvV), with which Compositum is affiliated as well, wrote a report about student wellbeing last year, and a working group also took up the issue. We are now investigating how we can implement this on a local level, which is why we are consulting with the boards, and with Lara as well now.” Coolen herself is a member of the E.S.C.
Compositum focuses on several possibilities as far as appointing confidential counsellors is concerned. Coolen: “What’s clear to us is that they shouldn’t be a member of the association’s board, as is sometimes the case now. They need to be able to do their work independently. Association members are eligible, but reunion-goers could also take on the role. They know the association well, but they stand a bit further away from it. Proper training is important, we as Compositum want to enquire if the university can offer that training. We believe that every association should appoint about two to four confidential counsellors. One man and one woman for sure, but perhaps you should also split it up into freshmen and seniors. We are currently discussing this with the association boards, but in the end, they will have to decide that for themselves.”
It’s clear now already to both Coolen and Hofstra that these confidential counsellors won’t address and solve issues on their own. “That shouldn’t be their task, they aren’t equipped for that either. They are still students after all,” Hofstra says. “They will however be the first, easily accessible contact person within an association for members who have a problem or a complaint. This counsellor will have had enough training to know where he or she needs to refer that person to.”
Coolen says that the plan’s further elaboration and its implementation will now be handed over to the Compositum’s new board, which takes office in September. “It features prominently on the agenda, I’m very happy about that, and there is much enthusiasm at the three student social associations as well to get started with it coming academic year.”
Hofstra’s aim is that the approach taken by Compositum will eventually result in the appointment of confidential counsellors at all student associations, including the study associations and the cultural clubs. “That’s quite a number of counsellors, considering the large number of associations at TU/e. They will be volunteers, it’s not a paid position. If it works, we also seriously need to look at how we are going to train those persons.”
Code of Conduct
Another initiative in this area, which is aimed at the student sports associations and the Student Sports Center (SCC), was taken up by the board of the Eindhoven Student Sport Federation. ESSF chair Christiaan Goossens is finalizing a Code of Conduct for sports associations, which will also have to apply to employees of the SSC.
Goossens: “We will soon submit this code to the boards of all the sports associations, who can then comment on it. One of the reasons for drafting such a code, is because there’s a wide variety of groups active at the SSC. Apart from TU/e students and staff members, there is a large group of Fontys students, for example. With this Code of Conduct, everyone will know what rules apply within the SSC when it comes to unfriendly behavior towards women or transgressive actions, discrimination, racism and exclusion. These rules will be just as important as the house rules that currently apply at the SSC. We will bring this code to the attention of new boards at the start of each new academic year.”
Hofstra, who has been active at the SSC for many years, welcomes the initiative to draft such a code of conduct, and she wants the SSC to appoint a confidential counsellor as well. “Under the current situation, people who have a complaint about a sports teacher or about a fellow student they practice sports with, need to go to one of the confidential counsellors appointed by TU/e at a central level,” Hofstra says. “These persons are at a bit of a distance from the SSC and from students who practice sports. Going to someone like that is a big step. It works much better when confidential counsellors are active within the SSC itself.” Goossens believes that it shouldn’t be that difficult to find people for this position within the SCC staff.
The initiatives Hofstra is currently working on have but one goal she says: “They are meant to further increase social safety at our university. Because even though we haven’t heard about misconduct at TU/e, Evangelia Demerouti (Diversity Officer for staff members, ed.) and I believe that we need to continue to work on this. That is why Evangelia and I explicitly want to bring this issue to the attention of the TU/e community during the Diversity Week in October. We hope that we can collaborate on this with Studium Generale, for example. But at this point no one knows what that week will look like due to the corona measures.”
Diversity Officers Eva Demerouti (for staff members) and Lara Hofstra (for students) hereby call on everyone to report problems or misconduct to them. That’s possible without your name immediately becoming public. Demerouti: “Only tell us that with which you feel comfortable. To what group do you belong, in terms of ethnicity, religion or gender? Are you a student or a staff member? How long have you been a student or staff member at TU/e?
Try to describe as carefully as possible what happened to you. Who was involved, what did you do, how did it make you feel? And tell us what you think TU/e should do to prevent these kinds of things from happening. And what further steps would you like us to take.”