Since August 2021, Amnesty has been asking higher education institutions to sign a manifesto against sexual violence among students. A survey carried out by the human rights organisation has revealed that rape occurs relatively frequently among students and that the majority do not know where to go for help at their institution after experiencing sexual violence.
Recent surveys by the Dutch National Students’ Association and the Inspectorate of Education have confirmed that victims of ‘unsafe situations’ frequently do not report the matter, so problems sometimes remain off the radar.
Workshops and training courses
The manifesto contains six action points. For example, there need to be workshops that students can attend, such as bystander training. And staff should be trained to be ‘trauma-sensitive’ when dealing with issues such as sexual violence. Complaints procedures should also be improved.
Last year, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam was the first to sign, but since then only nine more institutions have followed. TU/e hasn’t signed the manifesto, but it does make an effort to respond as effectively as possible to the action points outlined by Amnesty (see the panel below this article).
Utrecht University decided not to sign the manifesto, but wants to institute its own action plan. Delft University of Technology has not signed because it does not see any great benefit in workshops for all students. That’s a pity, in the view of Janna Willems, an Amnesty campaigner.
Has the bar been set too high for the institutions with the six action points?
“We get questions like that from the institutions but most of them understand the need these kinds of workshops and training activities. We certainly don’t expect everything to have been settled at the time of signature. It’s only afterwards that we go ahead with the implementation and we can help them with that as well.”
Why have so few institutions signed the manifesto?
“We expect another 10 institutions to sign within a few weeks and then the total will be 20. What is happening isn’t negative: many institutions want to draw up an action plan before signing. So it takes a bit longer, but then they can demonstrate what they are planning to do.”
Isn’t that what the action points in the manifesto are for?
“The action points serve as a kind of basis. We are encouraging the institutions to do even more. As an example, HAN University of Applied Sciences did so this week with the ‘Wheel of Student Wellbeing’, and Maastricht University combined its signing ceremony with a conference. These institutions put a lot of thought and effort into things before signing the manifesto, which we see as very positive.”
So there’s no lack of urgency?
“The institutions certainly feel a sense of urgency, especially following the revelations from The Voice and the student surveys that have been published. They’re getting to grips with it and we have the feeling that the issue is being taken seriously. But we also feel that the time is ripe for more signatures because they have had plenty of time to think about things. It’s an important signal for students and the outside world, so we hope that all the institutions will join in before the next academic year.”
What is the motivation behind TU/e’s decision not to sign the manifesto? Student Daniek Dobber of Groep-één posed this question during the University Council meeting of 21 February 2022.
After all: if you consider the various measures already taken by TU/e and add these to the steps the university still intends to take, you practically cover most of what the manifesto asks of institutions.
For example, the university has outlined a policy and offers online information with regard to social safety for students. TU/e has also set up a guidance chain of contact persons where students can turn to if they wish to report misconduct or raise cases of misconduct in confidence. Cases can be reported anonymously via SpeakUp.
In addition, TU/e wants to monitor students’ social safety on a structural basis and adapt existing regulations and procedures when needed – including alcohol policy – to fit with the present time. The university is also considering the possibility of offering students active bystander training sessions, and it is investigating the best ways how to engage students in a dialogue about undesirable behavior.
This means, as Dobber indicated during the University Council meeting, that TU/e only needs to take a few more steps before it covers all of the action points outlined in Amnesty’s manifesto. Think of offering workshops that teach participants about gender roles in relation to sexual violence.
TU/e would like to take those final steps, executive board member Nicole Ummelen replied, but the university will not sign the manifesto. “We decided not to sign manifestos as such. In this case also because there are elements in the manifesto that we cannot take responsibility for as university alone.”
Ummelen said that the board had a discussion about this motivation with Amnesty. Student Koen de Nooij (Groep-één) advised the Executive Board to seek collaboration with the municipality, so that the responsibility can be shared.