Last week, we were saddened to see the revelations about inappropriate sexual behaviour in The Voice of Holland. It was a painful insight into what happens behind the scenes of one of the Netherlands’ largest television programmes. The stories that were exposed by the programme #BOOS are not unique to the media sector: it is a widespread social problem that also occurs in the academic community. Also at the University of Twente. We find this unacceptable.
In the coming year, we will regularly pay attention to the theme of inappropriate sexual behaviour, but also to social safety in a broader sense. As the Executive Board, we will take action against any form of inappropriate sexual behaviour: zero tolerance applies. But it is also a task which we face together as a community: together we ensure a culture in which this kind of behaviour is prevented and can be discussed if it occurs. We do this not only by being alert to our own behaviour, but also by being alert to the inappropriate behaviour of others and acting accordingly. Clear codes of conduct and protocols help in this respect, but they are there to support the culture that we create together.
In the stories surrounding The Voice, inappropriate sexual behaviour was closely linked to abuse of power. They showed how power relations - or perceived power relations - play a major role in allowing undesirable behaviour and not daring to report it when it does happen. We deliberately speak of 'perceived' power relations, because it does not matter whether there is an actual power relationship or not. If it is felt, then it is.
The academic community is vulnerable to power relations between people; between staff members, and between staff members and students. This requires us, as a university, to organise ourselves in such a way that no abuse of power can occur. We must constantly be aware of how we relate to each other and do everything in our power to prevent abuse.
We also know that, unfortunately, inappropriate sexual behaviour is all too common in student social life. Here too we guard the boundaries of what is permissible, whereby we would like to emphasise that the use of alcohol or drugs may never lead to someone else's boundaries being crossed.
We ask you to join us in taking a stand against any form of inappropriate sexual behaviour. By talking to each other about it, by speaking out, by addressing others, and by providing a safe environment together where everyone feels safe to speak up if they come across it.
Tom Veldkamp, Machteld Roos, Vinod Subramaniam
Executive Board University of Twente