But what qualifies as transgressive behaviour? Some things are simply not allowed. You’re not allowed to jump a red light. Similarly, there is no room on our campus for bullying, sexual harassment, abuse of power, etc. Let us be very clear about that.
But sometimes, it can be less clear where boundaries have been crossed. A touch may be experienced by one person as a warm, comforting gesture, and by another as unwanted intimacy. This touch can also be experienced by one and the same person as welcome in one situation, and unwanted in another.
Most of us are well aware of when ‘the traffic light is red’ in everyday life, in the workplace, and in the lecture hall. But if there are no clear traffic lights at an intersection, what do you do? Think about the Keizer Karelplein. It’s not a good idea to just drive onto this roundabout without paying attention. In fact, you need to continuously check whether any new cars are entering the roundabout, to prevent accidents. And when the light turns green, and you enter the roundabout, you need to check whether the cars driving towards you actually see you coming. At least, I know from personal experience that that’s the smart thing to do. A green light from your perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person also sees it that way.
A green light from your perspective doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person also sees it that way.
How can I avoid well-meaning compliments, jokes and pats on the back being perceived as unwanted? For that, we need to be open to each other, listen to each other, and, in case of doubt, refrain. Check whether your behaviour is as desirable for the other person as it is for you. Be open to signals coming from the other person. Is your behaviour appropriate, in this moment, in this situation, with this person? And if you’re in any doubt at all, hit the brakes, slow down to a crawl, and think twice about whether you want to make that joke, send that message, or go ahead with that physical contact. If you’re still unsure, don’t do it, and give the other person some space.
What’s important here is to not leave the responsibility for saying ‘stop’ to the other person. It’s hard to indicate that you don’t want or don’t like something. Especially in a work or study context where there is often some form of dependence at play. Moreover, we noticed that this becomes even harder to do when the pressure is on. By respecting each other’s boundaries, we give each other the freedom to study, work, and relax together on campus, without compromising the freedom and safety of others. By being mindful of and learning from each other, we can manage the Keizer Karelplein together.
Also on behalf of my fellow board members, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and I’d like to close with the words of Titus Brandsma that appear on the wall next to the Cultuur Café.
Let us not egocentrically lock ourselves up in our own world
and stare ourselves blind on our individual interests,
but instead realise
that we have a calling, one that brings great joy to our existence,
and that is to make others happy.
- Daniël Wigboldus