Diversity day; morning session on sexual harassment
Three actors play a short scene for the audience. We see a female student who is waiting for her friend in a pub. In the meantime, a young man offers her a drink. She declines. ‘Ah, don't be like that,’ he says, and before she knows it, a beer has been put in front of her. She takes it without looking at him. She goes onto the dance floor; he joins her and is becoming more and more pushy. When the friend arrives, she is ‘rescued’ from the young man. Then it's the next morning, the student and her friend are waiting for their new tutor in the classroom. Lo and behold, it's the rejected, inebriated young man from the night before. “I’m glad to see familiar faces,” he says loudly. The girls would like the earth to open up and swallow them.
Similar short performances about students and young tutors, but also about students among themselves, constitute the starting points for a debate on sexual harassment during the UM's diversity morning in Kumulus Theatre, last Thursday, 8 March. Was there mutual agreement or have boundaries been overstepped? In the above-mentioned situation, the online poll indicates that 60 per cent feel that the latter was the case. All those present may vote with their smartphones immediately after every performance. Thirty per cent is doubtful. “The girl clearly didn't feel at ease in the bar,” they say. There is support: “For me, this is a ‘normal’ night-out situation in which a guy wants something from a girl and just goes too far. She clearly doesn't want to.” Another person agrees with this argument, but understands that the boy keeps trying, that he is hopeful, based on the fact that she eventually accepts the drink. The next day, when it appears that he is her new tutor, the whole situation becomes quite bizarre. From the audience: “He says that he recognises her, how intimidating is that? He should have apologised. This is a matter of professionalism. As a student, I would quickly switch to another tutorial group.”
In answer to the question where students can go with this kind of problem, the majority shrug their shoulders. The student adviser is not always an option. “At the faculty of Law, you have to wait two weeks, I wouldn't bother with that.” “You can always come to me,” says Wendy Geijen, confidential adviser for students at Maastricht University. But it is clear that very few know that there is such a thing as a confidential adviser. This very lack of knowledge, this uncertainty where to turn to as a student with mental health problems (depression, anxieties or an eating disorder) or issues such as sexual harassment, was the reason why five students set up a new student initiative: Heart2Heart . “We will aim to be your information resource on where and how to find help with mental health issues,” states the flyer that they distribute this morning.
Help should be easy to find and accessible, but what about guidelines for how to behave? A Code of Conduct is being drawn up at the UM, both for staff and for students. In her speech, the UM diversity officer Constance Sommerey tells of when she was a tutor just starting out at this university and she had to give a presentation in the framework of the UTQ (University Teaching Qualification) track about the challenges of a young tutor. It seemed like a good idea to her to include in her story the sexual relationship between a young tutors and students. A friend strongly advised against it – “no, you can't talk about that” – but she did anyway. “It didn't go so well.” The chairperson looked warily, said something funny and changed the subject, Sommerey says. It was a taboo.
According to Sommerey, it is always wise when a tutor has a relationship with a student, whether it is over or not, to confess this to the supervisor concerned. That keeps the lines clear, then they won't end up in a group together and you don't need to assess the other person, she reckons. Still, she does realise that matters are more difficult in practice. “How does it really feel for a young tutor to go to the boss, saying: ‘Well, I slept with a student’.”
Click here for the article of the afternoon programme about the Age Friendly University