Students want to discuss unwanted behavior at UCU campus

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Over 50 University College Utrecht students experienced unwanted behavior from, for instance, fellow students. They responded to a question posted on Facebook. The call came forth from the honors class Creating Societal Impact. The students want  opening up a discussion about the topic unwanted behavior.

Read in Dutch

Seven students sat themselves down at University College Utrecht gates last Wednesdays, big banner in tow. The banner stated that violence happened everywhere, and UCU – despite seemingly being a safe bubble – is no exception.

The banner listed some heavy experiences. One student had experienced someone putting out their cigarette on his arm as a form of bullying. Another was followed all the way back to her dorm room by a male student. One student had to deal with an intruder who lay down on top of her. Some other experiences mentioned people becoming aggressive after using alcohol or drugs.

The students’ presence got the attention of many. “We were really preparing our presentation for our honors class,” UCU student Jamie Henderson says, “But we also wanted to draw attention to the topic. Unwanted behavior is everywhere, and if you think it isn’t, you can’t really discuss it. We think it’s healthier to talk about it with each other, in a safe environment.”

Recognizing some things
They certainly succeeded in drawing attention. “We received a visit from a police officer who said he had no idea what happened on campus, and that he wanted to become better informed regarding this. Students passed by who recognized some things, and said it was a good thing we’re talking about the theme in this way. On the other hand, some students felt we’re making UCU look bad.”

The students stress that they’re not intending to blame UCU. Jamie thinks things aren’t necessarily worse or better at UCU than anywhere else. “This is a safe campus. But still, things happen here that we can’t ignore. We want to be able to talk about it. We’re going to write an article about it for the UCU newspaper Boomerang. Even after the course ends, part of the group wants to keep working on making this topic something we can talk about on campus.”

Help fairly wel executed
The students aren’t trying to address the topic from the viewpoint of the existing protocols, which state what a student is supposed to do if he or she feels threatened at UCU. Those are already fairly well executed. There’s an elaborate complaints protocol. Students always have access to pastoral or psychological assistance. The housemaster is always present, and students can always talk to their personal tutors or to the Student Life Officer. Finally, there’s the university’s counselor to whom students can reach out.

Mark Baldwin is UCU’s Student Life Officer. “UCU is a place where students come in contact with societal issues in both intellectual and practical ways. That’s incredibly valuable. The stories these students have collected aren’t surprising, they’re themes that people of that age group throughout society concern themselves with. We’re aware that things like this happen sometimes, and they do talk about it with us. We try to deal with it the best way we can. By talking about it, and looking at how we can find a solution for the issues for each particular student. If necessary, we ask the assistance of police or health care professionals.”

Although the situation at UCU might not be worse than elsewhere, the impact might just be a lot bigger. If something happens between students, for example, it’ll be two students who both live and study at that same small campus. Baldwin wonders about the impact of this project on students who have had bad experiences on campus, as it may once again confront them with those experiences. “I wonder whether the students who started this educational project realized this, too.”

Translation: Indra Spronk

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