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Code of conduct against hazing violence

Hazing practices at student associations must be addressed, say the students and staff of the University Council. ‘Violent incidents need to become a thing of the past’, says student party Lijst Calimero faction chair Daan van Dijk. To that end, the RUG is introducing a voluntary code of conduct.
By Peter Keizer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The factions are responding to the report in the NRC published last Friday. In this, the newspaper described how the RUG and Hanze University of Applied Sciences do not have a handle on the incidents during the introduction period. The Advice Committee Orientation (ACI) – which the educational institutions founded in 1998 to supervise the practice – is not being taken seriously by the student associations and is unable to guarantee people’s safety during the introduction periods.

The NRC appealed to the Government Information (Public Access) Act to access the ACI’s meeting notes and annual reports. These show, among other things, that inebriated hazing committee members at student association Vindicat have struck aspiring members in 2015. According to Vindicat, they needed to ‘learn their lesson’ for talking back. A year later, a member of that same hazing committee stood on the head of one of the ‘pledges’. The suspect is currently being prosecuted by the Public Prosecution Office.

In the meeting report dating back to October 2016, the professors and students at the ACI claim to be ‘shocked’ by the incidents. They feel that their advices and recommendations are not being taken seriously by several of the associations. They also claim that the programme that the student associations handed in with the supervisor does not represent what actually went on during the introduction camp in August. The ACI members say they have been ‘lied to and deceived’ by Vindicat and Albertus Magnus. For this reason, several of them no longer want to talk to the associations and are considering leaving the committee. Four out of six members have said they will leave the committee, without giving a clear reason.

‘Disconcerting’

‘We knew the ACI was dissatisfied with the tools they had at their disposal. But we had no idea that they felt dismissed to this extent. We hadn’t heard that before and feel it is disconcerting’, Daan van Dijk says on behalf of Lijst Calimero. Personnel faction chair Bart Beijer thinks the members of the University Council have been misinformed about the gravity of the situation. ‘We will keep the Board of Directors to their words as they expressed them in September’, he says. At the time, the RUG said it would abolish the hazing practices.

Lijst Sterk faction chair Pieter Polhuis says the party feels the ACI has failed. ‘I’m not really surprised at the NRC article.’ Polhuis expects the ACI to come up with a plan for the future which will expound upon the enforcement and monitoring of the introduction period. ‘If they don’t, they should be abolished’, he says.

But the supervisor is not a policeman or an investigative agency, says secretary Jan Wolthuis. It also lacks authority to impose sanctions. ‘The ACI can only function in an environment of sufficient trust and openness’, he says.

The Advice Committee only responds when the associations themselves come to them to report incidents. ‘You can never fully prevent these kinds of incidents. We can try to reduce the risk of recurrence through information, but that’s no guarantee either’, says Wolthuis.

Monitoring

In the meantime, the RUG has started a twin-track policy. The ACI will remain in contact with the associations concerning the introduction periods and will monitor their safety plans. The accreditation committee, which was founded last year, will investigate the association culture throughout the year and will check whether the association boards can keep that culture under control. The accreditation committee’s first report, on Vindicat, is expected to be published in June.

Next month, the university is introducing a code of conduct that it will present to all student associations. Associations that sign the code promise to create a safe and trustworthy environment for the students, reject violence, intimidation, and discrimination, and to report any and all incidents to the university. Interestingly enough, signing this code will not be mandatory. Associations who do sign it will get a mention on the university’s website.

‘It’s supposed to work as a deterrent’, says Wolthuis. ‘When the code is broken, the associations will enforce internal sanctions, but the institutes can also enforce sanctions on them. Think of withdrawing committee grants, for example, or cutting off contact between the university and the association. But we hope that none of this will be necessary.’

Reports

The ACI’s annual reports include the various incidents that took place during the year. In 2015 and 2016, three incidents were reported. And although Vindicat’s hazing committee went too far in both years, the ACI’s report does not discuss these cases. The committee only elaborates on the media attention that the abuse led to. In most cases, the students involved were in need of medical attention. The seriousness of the reports is not mentioned. However, the ACI did conclude that the incidents could ‘hardly be blamed’ on the associations.

‘We do not provide details about the reports’, says Wolthuis. ‘The associations involved have to feel free to come to us. That works better in an environment of trust. If they knew that incidents would be all over town, they’d stop reporting them.’

‘Safety above all’

For now, the University Council factions are awaiting the report on Vindicat. The Council will look at it in June. A presentation by rector magnificus Elmer Sterken to the ACI earlier this month showed that the university wants to do everything in its power to prevent new incidents. ‘After the incidents of last year, it’s safety above all’, one of the sheets reads. According to Sterken, the introduction period should ‘mainly be a fun time’. ‘Inclusion and fun are the focus.’

‘We do know that Vindicat and Albertus have made drastic changes to the plans for their upcoming introduction periods in the summer’, says Van Dijk. ‘So I am not expecting any incidents.’

Polhuis does not think that the affects of the new accreditation committee will be visible until a longer period has passed. ‘The committee is aiming for a cultural shift. Cultures tend to change slowly. That is why the co-determination board and the Board of Directors should keep an eye on the associations and stick to their guns.’

Photos: Albertus Magnus Almanac 2013

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23 May 2017 | 23-5-2017, 21:38