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Discussing social safety with Mariëtte Hamer and Geert ten Dam

Published on 01-02-2023 12:13
On 26 January, Mariëtte Hamer visited the University of Amsterdam in her role as independent government commissioner for combating inappropriate behaviour and sexual violence. In a packed lecture hall on the Roeterseiland Campus, she spoke to UvA students and staff about undesirable behaviour and social safety during a Town Hall meeting.
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Mariëtte Hamer, Arjen Berkvens and Geert ten Dam sitting at a table at the front of a lecture room, before an audience of UvA students and staff.
Photo: Isabell Janssen

'I was already working on social safety during my time in the House of Representatives,’ Mariëtte Hamer tells the audience, just after coordinating confidential adviser Arjen Berkvens has opened the event. ‘I’m keeping that focus in this role, by advising at policy level but also by being a figurehead of the social conversation.’ Hamer continues: 'Initially I expected that keeping the social debate on this topic going would be the most difficult task, but the topic keeps playing a role in our society. We need to keep up that intensity of talking about social safety in a good way, because then we can really make steps. We have to keep talking about what we find acceptable and what we feel comfortable with at the kitchen table, at the university and at organisations.’

At the UvA we’re also continuing the conservation, responds Geert ten Dam: 'I am therefore pleased that we can meet about social safety in this way. We have been working on this topic very intensively over the past four years, partly due to a number of reports. Social safety has already gotten and still gets a lot of our attention, because it is crucial that we create a safe environment together. That is the basis on which you can study and work well.’

Continue to learn and work

Geert ten Dam talks about the UvA's priorities regarding social safety: 'Where to go for questions or reports on social safety must be clear and accessible. We will continue to pay attention to that. We also want to keep learning, for instance about which places in the university are most vulnerable to undesirable behaviour and how we can better account for this.’

She argues: 'But above all, it is important to keep working to raise awareness and thus change the culture. For everyone at UvA, it is part of our work and responsibility. If someone comes to you with an issue, you can't just refer them to someone else. Experience shows that when the dean is notified of an issue, for example, the problem has been around for far too long. That is why social safety is part of our leadership and HR training. It is not a separate topic, but part of your professionalism.’

Rules are needed for change

There are some questions from the audience. One of the attendees wants to know how we can work on cultural change when there is also a dependency relationship. Mariëtte Hamer: 'There is always discussion about rules regarding social safety, but I think we need a transition period in which we set clear rules. People then start thinking more about their power and that creates more awareness around undesirable behaviour. If you understand that you have power and that this creates a dependency relationship, you can also better understand what influence your behaviour has. Such rules are sometimes needed as a norm for a while, so that we learn to treat each other more gently.’

'We already have such rules, of course,' adds Geert ten Dam. 'For example, procedures state that there should never be just one PhD student and one supervisor. By continuing to monitor this and complying with the rules together, we all contribute to increasing social safety.’

Look out for each other and support each other

One of the students present is curious about how students can work on social safety among themselves. A good question, thinks Mariëtte Hamer: ‘It is very important that students work on this among themselves. It starts with awareness, by organising events and talking to each other. But above all by paying attention to each other and supporting each other. By doing it together, we will achieve the culture change that is needed.’

Student union ASVA is already working on creating this awareness. Besides their involvement in organising the Town Hall, they organised a stand with flyers for students on the Roeterseiland Campus to inform them of where they can go if they experience undesirable behaviour.

Do you know what you can do if you see or experience undesirable behaviour? For more information on social safety please visit the campaign webpage Looking out for each otherExternal link or the webpage on social safety.

Do you need help? Find out where to go for help with undesirable behaviour.