The two faces of VUB’s new transgressive behaviour policy

Sofie De Smet (left) and Elly Audenaert (right)
Sofie De Smet (left) and Elly Audenaert (right)

You Are Not Alone policy puts maximum focus on prevention and support to ensure victims don’t feel abandoned

Monday 17 October - The Vrije Universiteit Brussel is shifting up a gear in tackling transgressive behaviour on and around campus. With its new You Are Not Alone (YANA) policy, the university is putting maximum effort into prevention and better support for those reporting transgressive behaviour, so they do not feel alone. VUB employees Elly Audenaert and Sofie De Smet will further shape the YANA policy. "We won’t abandon people seeking help, but counsellors themselves also need to know where to turn when they’re having a hard time or are unsure what to do."

The new YANA policy plan was drafted in various working groups over the past few months. De Smet and Audenaert will now implement those plans in practice. "A number of actions from YANA have already been realised," Audenaert said. "We’ve improved the functioning of our own hotline. We reviewed the disciplinary procedure for staff and are carrying out the same exercise for students. And we are actively pursuing clear communication around transgressive behaviour."

"Moreover, we’ve worked on a Grenswijs (Boundary-wise) policy for students," De Smet adds. "Grenswijs aims to raise awareness and train students to prevent undesirable transgressive behaviour, recognise and acknowledge boundaries and - when transgressive behaviour occurs - respond decisively. The new VUB initiation framework, which aims to prevent all forms of undesirable behaviour during initiation activities and to create a safe environment for all participants without compromising traditions, is one of the actions from Grenswijs that are already in place."

From her position as coordinator of the support helpline and a psychosocial expert, Audenaert spearheaded one of the working groups. De Smet, head of student affairs, helped shape Grenswijs. Now it is up to them to realise YANA’s action points, Audenaert for staff and De Smet for students.

There will be tailor-made bystander training for managers, staff and students, so that people learn to pick up signals of transgressive behaviour and can respond appropriately. According to Audenaert and De Smet, this is "the culture we want to move towards: expressing calmly and in a respectful way if you don’t consider a statement or certain behaviour to be OK."

VUB will start a campaign from mid-October to make its community aware of what transgressive behaviour is, what its impact is and how they can raise it if confronted with it. The message reads "No Way. This is where we draw the line." On the VUB campuses in Jette and Etterbeek, an orange line across campus points to that boundary.

In addition, VUB’s ambition, with all its service providers, is to develop a cohesive and welcoming policy. The university has a range of bodies, procedures and people to deal with complaints about transgressive behaviour, but they are not sufficiently aligned.

"We want to achieve a counselling landscape that’s clear to everyone - both for people seeking help and those working in the field," say Audenaert and De Smet of their mission. "There are many people involved at VUB and that’s positive, because it means we care about wellbeing, and there are lots of channels where you can ask for help and support. But these are not currently aligned and we’re going to change that. It’s our job to make sure that welcoming and safe guidance is available when someone experiences something transgressive. And that complaints or reports do not remain under the radar."

VUB is convinced that this new approach to transgressive behaviour, and the path it has followed in recent months, will contribute to maximising safety on campus for everyone who works and studies there.

Vrije Universiteit Brussel is an internationally oriented university in Brussels, the heart of Europe. By providing excellent research and education on a human scale, VUB wants to make an active and committed contribution to a better society.

The World Needs You

The Vrije Universiteit Brussel assumes its scientific and social responsibility with love and decisiveness. That’s why VUB launched the platform De Wereld Heeft Je Nodig - The World Needs You, which brings together ideas, actions and projects based on six Ps. The first P stands for People , because that’s what it’s all about: giving people equal opportunities, prosperity, welfare, respect. Peace is about fighting injustice, big and small, in the world. Prosperity combats poverty and inequality. Planet stands for actions on biodiversity, climate, air quality, animal rights... With Partnership , VUB is looking for joint actions to make the world a better place. The sixth and last P is for Poincaré , the French philosopher Henri Poincaré, from whom VUB derives its motto that thinking should submit to nothing except the facts themselves. VUB is an ’urban engaged university’, strongly anchored in Brussels and Europe and working according to the principles of free research.­eftjenodig