Undesirable behavior: teach first-years about it early on?

Maastricht University is planning to have all new bachelor’s students take a mandatory course on undesirable behavior at the start of next academic year. Cursor asked Lara Hofstra, Student Diversity Officer at TU/e, for her thoughts on the matter. She also told us what’s already being done in this context at TU/e.

photo Lieke Vermeulen

As part of its efforts to combat undesirable behavior, Maastricht University wants to make it mandatory for all new Bachelor’s students to take a course on the subject from next academic year onwards. Executive Board President Rianne Letschert unveiled these plans last week in a meeting of the Maastricht University Council, university news platform Observant reports. It’s not yet clear whether the course will only cover sexual misconduct or social safety in general, nor who will be teaching it.

Lara Hofstra, closely involved with the subject as a Student Diversity Officer at TU/e, says that all federations at the Eindhoven university have been working on the social safety at their associations for two years now. Hofstra: “They’re really moving in the right direction and are receiving support from Education and Student Affairs (ESA) for the Confidential Contact Person program (CCP program) and the accompanying communication efforts. Other relevant initiatives from the federations are also being supported by the Executive Board and ESA.”

Pretty intense

Hofstra herself thinks it’s “pretty intense” that all Maastricht first-years will have to take a course about undesirable behavior right at the start of their studies. Observant already raised the question of whether the faculty orientation is a suitable time to teach this course. Hofstra: “I hope that’s not how it will go down, because orientation participants already have a lot of impressions to process within a week. I do think it’s good, both from a mental wellbeing and a social safety perspective, that students know early on where they can go if something happens to them during or after orientation. We’ll start drawing extra attention to this. For the Intro week we might, for example, try to come up with a fun way of illustrating how we treat each other at our university – with inclusivity and respect. But let’s keep it light.”

All Intro guides are already receiving active bystander training in the area of wellbeing and social safety, Hofstra says. “Next academic year we’ll really customize this training to our target group. Preferably we’d teach it before the summer vacation and follow it up with extra interactive training in which we’ll talk about case studies in small groups. During the actual Intro there will be CCPs present on campus, clearly recognizable in their T-shirts, and there will be a special desk participants can report to if needed.”

Extra courses

Over the coming period, extra courses will also be added to the CCP program itself, Hofstra says. “This will enable all associations to get involved. Last November a federation meeting about social safety, including best practices, was introduced and all boards are working on a Code of Conduct. Part of this is general, but it also contains details specific to the type of association. ESA Policy Officer Inge Adriaans and I are currently looking for a legal expert to make sure we get this right.”

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