“A week like this needs to give people that extra little push”

During this year’s edition of the TU/e Diversity Week, which starts next Monday and lasts until October 11, Student Diversity Officer Lara Hofstra aims to bring the TU/e community together so that people can get acquainted with one another. Because with over a hundred nationalities and students and staff members in all shapes and sizes, there’s more than enough to discuss and to learn from each other. And there are also still too many people who haven’t found their feet at TU/e yet, Hofstra says.

photo Angyalosi Beata / Shutterstock

When Lara Hofstra started her work as Student Diversity Officer at TU/e in June of last year, her aim was to make sure that each student feels seen and heard. She had gained ample experience at the Student Sports Centre, where she has been dedicating herself to creating a greater sense of connection and solidarity within the TU/e community with much enthusiasm for some time now. Hofstra: “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from or what your socioeconomic status is: everyone should feel at home here at TU/e. The study associations offer an increasing number of activities in the field of wellbeing, and I’m very proud of the dedication and creativity of the new generation of students. There is social control at TU/e thanks to our associations, and they also serve as safety nets for students with problems.”

Discussion hours

By way of example, Hofstra mentions the students from study association Van der Waals, who came to her with their idea after a Belly, Buttocks & Legs class at the Student Sports Centre (see the panel below the article). They put their heads together, and no fewer than eight study associations started with regular ‘discussion hour’ meetings this week, which students can attend if they wish to talk about matters such as exam stress, burnout or addiction.

“We really need the associations,” Hofstra says, “and the collaboration between boards, umbrella organizations and associations is excellent. That truly makes us strong. But the real challenge is to reach out to the people who aren’t a member of an association; the people who sit in their rooms, lonely and without friends. They too – or they in particular – need to feel that they are part of the TU/e community. TU/e is a place for everyone.”

There are also more than enough social activities to attend for those who don’t like alcohol, large groups or sports, Hofstra says. “More people than you might think prefer to sit in a quiet place with a cup of coffee. We need to increase our visibility, because the many activities in the field of diversity, connection and wellbeing at TU/e aren’t announced centrally. We are currently in the process of creating the right platform for that, so that it becomes much easier for people to find what they are looking for. That way, we can take away more barriers and allow people to discover how great this community is.”

Extra push

The upcoming Diversity Week, which takes place between 4 and 11 October and has ‘Diversity in all perspectives’ as a motto, is aimed to give students and staff member an extra push to get them to interact. The kick-off will take place in Brownies&downieS in Atlas at 8:00 hrs. Monday morning with fresh juice and croissants. Hofstra invites everyone to join this shared breakfast. Students of the many associations and umbrella organizations, internationals, and employees who dedicate themselves to diversity and inclusivity will hold a brainstorming session on the question of how to make TU/e a safe environment for all. Executive Board president Robert-Jan Smits and TU/e secretary Susanne van Weelden will also be present.

Hofstra hopes that the meeting will encourage people to enter into a dialogue with those who are different from them. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The more you know about each other, the more comfortable you will feel and the more understanding it will yield. We need to strive for a culture in which we support one another, and in which it isn’t strange to talk about the things that bother us.” One of the activities that is ideally suited for this purpose, is Live Books, which starts at 19:00 hrs. on Tuesday evening 5 October, also at Brownies&downieS in Atlas. Fifteen people from the TU/e community will share their private stories, in a safe environment, about issues such as eating disorders, addiction, depression, or what it means to be transgender.

The program also includes several lectures and brainstorming sessions, during which everyone will be challenged to come up with ways to contribute to the sense of ‘being at home’ and to the improvement of social safety at TU/e. Those who prefer a more practical approach can take part in one of three Active Bystander Training sessions offered by WISE, TU/e’s network for female scientific staff. These training sessions are designed to teach people how to adequately deal with undesired behavior. The weekend starts on Friday evening 8 October with a pub quiz, after which the week will conclude with a publicly accessible Coming-Out Breakfast on Monday 11 October between 9:30 and 10:30 hrs., once again at B&D, followed by the raising of the rainbow flag.

You can register with Lara Hofstra if you want to join the Kick-Off Breakfast or the Coming-Out Breakfast.

Discussion hours

Former Van der Waals board member Mette Schouten and fellow board member Lisanne van Dijk wanted to help bring more attention to the wellbeing of their members. Schouten currently works as a student-assistant with Lara Hofstra and is responsible for the fact that eight study associations have now put so-called ‘discussion hour’ meetings on their agendas.

From her own experience as a student, Schouten knows all too well how serious the impact of work pressure, study load and exam stress can be. “Fortunately, we discuss these issues a lot within my circle of friends, and that’s a big relief. But we also saw students at TU/e who had no place to turn to with their stories. We hope to bring students together during the discussion hours, so that they can share their experiences as well as some tips and tricks.”

Van der Waals started a pilot session some time ago, during which students entered into a dialogue – in the presence of professional moderators – on a wide variety of issues, including procrastination, burnout, depression and learning how to say no. The students found the experience positive overall, particularly in times of corona.

Schouten: “We decided to scale this up, so that we now have a discussion hour meeting on a particular subject twice every quartile at eight study associations. The discussions are moderated by coaches and psychologists from TINT and ESA, but they don’t offer professional help. It’s really about the students helping each other. Participants can get a referral in certain cases, naturally, but we mostly focus on prevention during the discussion hours. This week, various associations held their first meetings. We want to keep it on a small scale, with ten participants per session. There was much interest for several of these discussion hours. That alone indicates that people feel a great need to talk. You don’t have to deal with it on your own, whether you have a big problem or only a small one. Even better, because we are here to help.”

Members of E.t.s.v. Thor, T.S.V. ‘Jan Pieter Minckelers,’ SVTN ‘J.D. van der Waals,’ Industria, GEWIS, Sv Intermate, CHEOPS and SvBMT Protagoras are welcome to take part in the discussion hour meetings this academic year. Visit your association’s website for more information about topics and dates. You can always contact Lara Hofstra is you want to submit a topic, or if you have ideas about wellbeing and diversity.

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