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Even one student or employee exposed to sexual harassment is one too many

Opinion — Management and students stand together in a zero tolerance policy against harassment at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). There were no cases in Hollywood before the taboo was broken, and UCPH has probably had a hidden number of cases that need to be brought to light.

In 1927, after he crossed the Atlantic in his plane, CHARLES LINDBERGH became the first Man of the Year in the magazine Time. 90 years after this, the title which is now Person of the Year, went to the initiators of the #metoo movement, the so-called Silence Breakers. The individuals who triggered the #metoo movement may have really set off something like the Lindbergh flight. So there is a before and an after, and they both had transatlantic impact. But that so many stories first come out now, this says something about how difficult it is to stand up, and that time has finally worked to make it happen at last.

#METOO has shed light on the fact that everything is not as it should be. Let us therefore emphasise, both as management and as representatives for the students, that sexual harassment and improper behaviour are completely unacceptable at the University of Copenhagen.

MANY PEOPLE, ESPECIALLY WOMEN, have had to endure too much. Abuse has been silenced, and too little has seen the light of day. Things have undoubtedly improved over time and #metoo pushes the boundaries even further in the right direction. Hopefully. The wave will help things, but we must also help push it further.

#METOO should gives cause to every organisation looking outwards and then inwards: Are we doing things the right way? Can staff and students get guidance and support, and do they know where and how? Do we treat each other in a good and healthy way?

At UCPH there are many relationships that are unequal from the start.

WHEN ONE PER CENT of UCPH employees respond in the workplace assessment that they have been subjected to ‘unwanted sexual advances’ and when three per cent of the students in the education environment assessment reply that they have been subjected to harassment and bullying, it is too many . Even one student or employee exposed to sexual harassment is one too many! And with #metro in mind, we fear that there are more cases than the numbers show. There were also no ‘cases’ in Hollywood before the taboo was broken. In short: UCPH probably also has a hidden number of cases. Getting more precise figures is so fundamental, that the interest group Danish Universities and the National Union of Students in Denmark are to co-operate on a survey among students nationwide.

WE BELIEVE that there is a need to set standards of conduct in an open dialogue throughout UCPH. Dialogue is necessary not least because it is impossible to state exactly where the boundaries are in all situations. An increase in the visibility of the problem will, on the other hand, help to raise awareness of how we deal with each other, and help to disseminate the standards that we want to promote. In order for this to happen, we need to take action.


It is not easy to be in an abusive situation if colleagues and/or fellow students look the other way

THE CASES THAT helped start the #metoo movement were about power relationships, or relations of power, where the one person’s career was dependent on the other. EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put this precisely: “MeToo makes it suddenly visible to everyone what the result is, when power is defined as something that you ‘own’. That is, when power is something you have, and that gives you special rights relative to other people.”

WITHOUT CLEAR REDRESS, and access to assistance, there is the risk that precisely the unequal relations may be exploited. At UCPH there are many relations that are unequal from the start. Both between employees, employees and students, and between students and students. As a result, although the vast majority of people understand how to enter into unequal relations without problems, there is the need for the university to examine itself closely.

It is not only the victim’s RESPONSIBILIY TO SAY NO; the surroundings have a responsibility too. It is not easy to be in an abusive situation if colleagues and/or fellow students look the other way. “Is this my own fault? Did I understand the situation correctly? Do I remember things correctly?” are all questions that can pop up in the mind of someone who stands alone after an unpleasant experience.

We constantly work to maintain our long tradition of openness. But in the margins of the best traditions, there may be things that do not live up to this standard.

UCPH MUST BE both a good workplace, and a good place to study. We constantly work to maintain our long tradition of openness. But in the margins of the best traditions, there may be things that do not live up to this standard.

IT WAS THEREFORE a clear and unambiguous expectation – both for those with a managerial responsibility and for the colleagues and students who fortunately themselves to a large degree make for a good study environment – to take responsibility for the fact that UCPH is a place where everyone can feel safe and respected. That is why we must work to push our culture in the right direction, to state things clearly, and to ensure dialogue. The staff policy committee under the General Collaboration Committee (HSU) has set up a sub-group to provide input on possible new initiatives that will target university employees within the theme ‘good behaviour ‘ in a wide sense. And this is also with a focus on sexual harassment. In the same way, the UCPH Academic Board on Education Strategy (KUUR) has discussed before the Easter break how to proceed: Do the student counsellors feel qualified to give counsel on this, or do they need to be given further skills for this purpose? Is there a need for an update of the UCPH code of conduct? And how much should we use the study starting programme in this effort? Last, but not least, work is needed on how the subject of sexual harassment should be explicitly included in the educational environment assessments in the future.

HARASSMENT AND INAPPROPRIATE conduct is never acceptable no matter where it takes place. The Silence Breakers have brought the problems to light, and made the space to move on. From here it is our responsibility in society’s different institutions to take this up in our specific surroundings. For UCPH, it is the be-all and end-all that we have clear values and a clear framework for creating a safe environment at our university, where everyone feels they can be heard.

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