Letter to the editor

‘We need to talk about our culture’

Let us stop acting as though the reports made to the Inspectorate of Education are exceptions in an otherwise pleasant community, writes Assistant Professor Marieke Kootte. “Correct anyone that says that ‘women are like numbers, they are pretty to play with’.”

(Photo: Justyna Botor)

On Friday 1 March, TU Delft itself issued the Inspectorate of Education’s report which stated that TU Delft was negligent in safeguarding social safety. The Executive Board and the Supervisory Board stated that in their view, the Inspectorate of Education’s investigation was inadequate. The report is said to attach serious allegations to whole groups of people, while in reality there were only 148 reports out of a total of 8,000 employees.

By putting it like this, the administrators ignore a highly important aspect of a culture. We act as though the reports that we receive are exceptions that may arise in an otherwise pleasant community. But this is not the case, we are only ignoring smaller insinuations, comments, and exclusion. After all, these kinds of exceptions can only emerge if the underlying conditions give rise to it.

At the same time, we are staring blindly at these so-called exceptions. We all deplore physical or sexual intimidation, but the discussion seems to narrow down exclusively to this. How often haven’t I heard colleagues say that it is not so bad around here, so what is all the fuss about. But at the same time, every attempt to address a less obvious comment is dismissed as a joke or a minor issue.

‘Only by not ignoring this, will we understand that the reports are just the tip of the iceberg’

TU Delft asserts that the Inspectorate’s report does not help in the discussions on social safety as it uses terms like intimidation, threats, and mismanagement for whole groups of people. But it is the denying of a culture that allows these exceptions that does not help in discussions about social safety.

One of the points that clearly came to the fore in the Inspectorate’s report was the style of managers’ leadership. The report states that supervisors often avoid conflict and in doing so, worsen the situation which then allows a culture of intimidating behaviour to emerge and grow.

To avoid this, we, the TU Delft community, really need to be willing to engage in the conversation and address this without feeling that we are attacked personally. A supervisor must stand up for colleagues who are excluded from lunch instead of ignoring it and hoping that it will pass. And colleagues should think before saying things like ‘someone only won a prize because they needed to reach the female quota’. We need to address the chair of a meeting if the only non-white woman at the table is asked to get the coffee. And we need to correct any colleagues that say that ‘women are like numbers, they are pretty to play with’.

These are just examples from my everyday surroundings, an environment in which transgressive behaviour is said to not be an issue. Only by daring to speak up, talk about it, not ignoring the underlying issues, and not taking it personally, will we understand that the reports are just the tip of the iceberg.

Marieke Kootte is an Assistant Professor in Applied Mathematics and is part of TU Delft’s Climate Action Programme.

Writer Opinie

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