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Working towards a safe work and study environment

Leiden University is committed to providing a safe and inclusive work and study environment for its students and staff. Unfortunately, following a number of incidents that have occurred at Campus The Hague over the last year, some students feel neither safe nor welcome. This article lists the steps that the University has taken to address this.

‘It is utterly deplorable,’ says Erwin Muller, Dean of Campus the Hague, in response to the incidents. ‘Together with the University’s Diversity Officer, Aya Ezawa, we have investigated the incidents and taken appropriate action. We are working to create a safer work and study environment.’

Aya Ezawa adds: ‘When creating a safe learning environment, it is of paramount importance that the discussion does not focus solely on the “perpetrator” or “intentions.” Exclusion and racism are not about intentions or individual acts; they are about the effect on the group that was targetted. It is not about an individual, but about the learning community as a whole, and how it deals with this. Why does a person feel at liberty to do such a thing? It is the shared responsibility of the students, staff and institution to promote a learning environment in which such incidents can no longer occur.’

Dialogue necessary

After the incidents, an investigation was launched to find out what happened and who the culprits were. Various steps were taken in response. These included calling those involved to account about their behaviour and imposing sanctions. After the recent incident with the flag in Beehive, alongside a detailed reconstruction, managers and degree programmes at the University have focused their efforts on supporting, through the parties involved, the student groups that were affected by the wider discussion about this incident. With both the group of students who felt unsafe as a consequence of the events and those who were accused – sometimes unjustly – a dialogue has been started to bring them closer together, generate more understanding about what happened and improve forms of conduct. The dialogue corresponds with the University’s policy of doing its utmost to create a safe community for all its students and staff. In collaboration with an external expert, the University’s Diversity Officer has developed a programme for the students involved. This consists of several compulsory work sessions

Steps taken by the University

Call the students involved to account:

  1. In response to the previous incident concerning the group photo (September 2018), the identity of the students involved was immediately established, and they were reprimanded and given official warnings.
  2. After unacceptable messages were sent through Whatsapp in December 2018, the University immediately traced the sender. It discovered that the most contentious message had been written by someone who was not a student at Leiden University.
  3. An investigation was carried out after the flag incident. This identified a number of students who either possessed information or were involved in the incident. These students are following degree programmes at various faculties. There is no clear link to a specific degree programme or faculty. One student has provided a written statement saying that he wrote the text on the board of a study association of which he is not a member. (This student is not studying Security Studies, as has been suggested in the media.) Several meetings have been held with this student. He and all the study associations and students involved will participate in a joint training programme aimed at preventing such incidents. This will comprise various work sessions led by an external expert. These session will focus on promoting understanding and enabling the participants to discuss what happened and what to do if such a situation should arise again.

Steps focusing on a safe community:

  1. The relevant degree programmes are developing a concrete action plan to actively involve students and staff in creating a safe community. This will include events that focus on how to promote an inclusive work and study environment.
  2. In a core course for first-, second- and third-year students who are studying at Campus The Hague, address inclusivity and forms of conduct will be addressed in tutorials. This will be a permanent aspect of this annual introduction course.
  3. In their classes, lecturers from faculties at Campus The Hague will focus on forms and forms of conduct, both in the lecture hall and online.
  4. During the welcome for first-year students from all degree programmes in The Hague at the opening of the academic year (September 2019), a great deal of attention was paid to how we interact with one another. This was also the case for the opening event for master’s students. This will be a recurrent theme at the opening of each academic year. One of the study associations involved has explicitly addressed inclusivity in an ‘Equity Project.’
  5. On 8 November 2019, a meeting will be held at Campus The Hague for students on the subject of community forming and inclusivity. This is being prepared together with the study associations.
  6. From January 2020, there will be a special desk at the Wijnhaven building in The Hague where students will be able to receive extra support in community forming. There will also be an online version of these services, and students will be able to file a complaint about discrimination at a faculty office.
  7. In 2020, the Diversity Office will provide training for deans and other University managers on diversity and inclusivity. This will be given by an expert in the area of unacceptable behaviour.

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