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Students get easier complaints procedure for sexual harassment at Faculty of Science

MeToo — A new simple complaints procedure is to be introduced for unwanted sexual attention from staff and fellow students at the Faculty of Science.

A group of former physics students at the University of Copenhagen have introduced a new procedure, which makes it clear to students what their options are if they experience sexism or other forms of harassment at university.

They say that they started up the project “Crossing the Boundary – During Education’ in the autumn of 2017 in frustration over the fact that there were no clear guidelines for how and who to contact with a statement if they had unpleasant experiences with a staff member.

Some of the contacts which I was referred to never responded, so I could clearly feel that UCPH was not able to handle these cases.

Ane Baden, one of the promoters of the “Crossing the Boundary – During Education’ group

According to one of the promoters of the group, Ane Baden, no results turned up when she searched for “help in sexual harassment cases” on KUnet. When she contacted the student counsellors’ office and the student ambassador, she received different answers on who she should contact.

“Some of the contacts which I was referred to never responded, so I could clearly feel that UCPH was not able to handle these cases,” says Ane Baden.

Kept silent for three years

She says that the topic of sexual harassment is discussed among students in various associations like ‘Women in Physics’.

Here, a student reported an episode where a staff member cornered her during a social gathering and touched her breasts.

A few months later, she had an oral exam where he was the external examiner.

“She experienced this as far beyond her acceptable limits, and she didn’t talk to anyone about it for three years,” says Ane Baden.

Met with goodwill

According to Casper Madsen, a former physics student and member of the group, they have had a good dialogue and cooperation with the management of the Niels Bohr Institute, the head of studies at the Faculty of Science and an academic staff representative (VIP).

“We have been met with goodwill, and everything has gone fast since we launched the process in the autumn. You can clearly feel that the Niels Bohr Institute wants to improve the study environment,” says Casper Madsen.

One case is one case too many, so it is important that we take up this discussion, so that there is a culture change

Karen Rønnow, Head of Studies, Faculty of Science

The new procedure, which means that students go to the student counselling office with complaints has been announced on the Faculty of Science’s web pages and on KUnet.

Clarity over process

According to Karen Rønnow, Head of Studies at the Faculty of Science, there has always been a procedure for any harassment complaints over employees, whether it is of a sexual, religious or cultural nature.
But it has not been clearly communicated to students where they should submit their complaint, and how it will be dealt with so they know what kind of a process it is that they have set in motion.

This has now been remedied with an update on the faculty website, she says.

According to Karen Rønnow, there have been complaints of harassment, but the faculty has no overview of the extent of the problem.

But “one case is one case too many, so it is important that we take up this discussion, so that there is a culture change,” she says.

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