Feeling safe at school. It is a fundamental human right and certainly one that applies within the walls of THUAS. Only when that right is respected can students and staff members really reach their potential. This is why, on Tuesday 8 March 2022, The Hague University of Applied Sciences signed the Amnesty International manifesto ‘Let's Talk About YES’, a campaign against sexual assault directed at universities, universities of applied sciences and student associations. Elisabeth Minnemann: “For THUAS, signing this is an encouragement to act as much as possible in the spirit of this manifesto and to feel collectively responsible for a safe culture based on equality.”

Elisabeth Minnemann: “We support the goal of this manifesto. A knowledge institution like ours must be secure. It needs to be a safe haven, both intellectually and physically. That is why we are committed to fighting all forms of misconduct. I was shocked by the Amnesty study, which showed that 11% of female students and 1% of male students fall victim to sexual assault during their time as students. You want everyone to be safe at school or in their workplace, free from sexual assault and other forms of misconduct. But apparently it is not yet sufficient enough. We need to work together to make this better. It is emblematic to sign this on International Women's Day, but this manifesto is not just about women. It concerns everyone who has to deal with inappropriate behaviour. As a university of applied sciences, we must do everything we can to contribute to a safe environment for everyone.”

Educational vision

This manifesto is in line with the educational vision of The Hague University of Applied Sciences. It explicitly states that we strive to create a climate in which everyone feels safe, welcome and valued, says Marjolein Moonen. She is director of the Faculty of Social Work and Education and, as a member of the management team, chair of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. “By signing Amnesty International's manifesto on International Women's Day, we are confirming the importance we place on diversity and inclusion. And how for us safety is the basic condition for inclusion.”

Explicitly committed

The fact that The Hague University of Applied Sciences has signed the Amnesty International's manifesto should not come as a surprise to anyone, according to Marjolein. “We have previously signed a charter on diversity. By doing so, we promised to strengthen the inclusive climate at THUAS. Now we are explicitly stating what we have already done in terms of social safety and what we are further committed to when it comes to combating sexual assault.”

Recent nationwide research by Amnesty International has shown that one in ten students has experienced some form of sexual misconduct. Marjolein: “As the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force, we have made a deliberate choice to hear all voices. The voice of the lecturer and the student. We are taking an integrated view of how we can truly be an inclusive campus where everyone can work and study safely.”

Zero tolerance policy

The Hague University of Applied Sciences has recently scrutinised and tightened up its help and complaints structure. THUAS has also revised its integrity code to include new guidelines for conduct specifically aimed at counteracting sexual misconduct. To ensure that these are not just paper tigers, it is important that THUAS communicates about the prevention of sexual assault in a very clear way. Marjolein Moonen: “We are initiating and staging the conversation on the issue. We are making it clear to students and staff members which routes they can take in the unlikely event of sexual harassment. Our Executive Board has an absolute zero tolerance policy when it comes to behaviour that goes against inclusion and social safety.  We also expect the same attitude from our managers and staff members as part of a shared responsibility to create a safe learning environment for students and staff. If, as a colleague, you see something that should not be happening, you also have to intervene.”

Up to all of us

Is the signing of the manifesto Let's Talk About YES more than just a gesture? Marjolein: “Absolutely! We are not interested in empty promises. Following the positive trend we started earlier, we can take further important steps. Just to give an example: during our conversation, Naomi van Stapele, Inclusive Education professor, is running a workshop on the role of the bystander in relation to inappropriate behaviour.”

By signing the manifesto, The Hague University of Applied Sciences pledges to commit to human rights by protecting students and staff members from sexual assault and especially by taking further steps towards better prevention as an educational community. Marjolein: “Social safety is up to all of us. It is extremely important to monitor the implementation of policies and to intervene when there is a deviation from guidelines. Only then can we maintain a climate in which both students and staff members feel safe, welcome and valued.”