15|02|2023 Social Safety: What Does it Mean? | Academic Affairs with Ombuds Officer Nancy Viellevoije-Geers and student Rizka Simons
Social Safety: What Does it Mean? | Academic Affairs with Ombuds Officer Nancy Viellevoije-Geers, philosopher Lotje Siffels and student Rizka Simons | Wednesday 15 February 2023| 12.30 - 13.15 hrs |Collegezalencomplex, Radboud University | Radboud Reflects and Radboud Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office
Announcement - The discussion around social safety in academia is arguably more prominent than ever. In universities all over the country, people are wondering how to provide an environment where students and staff feel welcome, safe and respected. But what does social safety actually mean? Why is it important, and who are responsible for a socially safe environment? Come and learn from Ombuds Officer Nancy Viellevoije-Geers about social safety. See full annnouncement below.
Review - Social Safety: What does it mean?
The term ‘social safety’ seems to be everywhere, but what exactly do we mean by it? And how can we create a socially safe environment? Radboud Reflects and the Radboud Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office organized an Academic Affairs Lecture to discuss these and related questions with Ombuds officer for staff Nancy Viellevoije-Geers, student and former chair of the Student Council Rizka Simons, and philosopher and founding member of 0.7 (zeropointseven) Lotje Siffels. Program writer Pam Tönissen moderated the discussion.
Defining social safety
What is the definition of social safety? Nancy Viellevoije-Geers explained that the meaning of social safety is determined by your position, experiences, age and gender. It’s a personal thing, and can therefore be very different for individual people in different circumstances. We should therefore look carefully at what individual people need to feel safe. Rizka Simons added that social safety becomes more of an issue when you feel insecure, especially as a student. Communication therefore plays a very important role. Lotje Siffels: “Social safety has a lot to do with power relations. Problems are often a consequence of people being blind to the fact that they are in a position of power. The term is of course very broad and includes both severe and mild cases. That can be a disadvantage, but it’s still the right term to use because the cases involved are often substantively connected.”
The implications of power
Nancy Viellevoije-Geers stated that there is not one ‘social safety’ that includes everybody: “As an ombuds officer I talk to people who have very different perspectives on social safety, but who also have very different positions when it comes to power. This difference should be recognized, and taken as one of the causes for conflict. Not everybody is aware of his or her own power and the damage this can cause.” Lotje Siffels: “There are many structural issues, also here at this university, and many practical things that can be done to improve those. For example, there is not yet a lot of acknowledgement of power and power relations. Staff members at university are trained for academic achievement, not for being good leaders.” Nancy Viellevoije-Geers remarked that steps are being taken in this regard, for example with training for (future) managers. When it comes to leadership, many initiatives are being unrolled already. Rizka Simons saw teaming as one of the most important issues to be addressed. Every faculty has its own culture, so the focus should be on being open and working together in smaller teams.
Big and small goals to achieve
What should we be striving for? Lotje Siffels argued that there are various forms of power abuse and intimidation, the effect of which is that people feel unsafe in their work space. She knows many stories of people whose complaints were not recognized. It’s an important first step to have regulations and confidentiality officers, but it’s equally important to encourage people to make use of those institutions and support those who do so. Nancy Viellevoije-Geers added that she is aware that for some people, it’s a big step to actually go and talk to someone about a problem they experience, usually because they fear for position. A code of conduct therefore is a step in the right direction, as it gives clarity on what is and is not okay. But it’s not carved in stone – we have to work with it in practice. Lotje Siffels: “The university should be more attentive towards the people who feel that the existing systems are letting them down. That would be an easy and important thing to do.” “Rizka Simons added: “We also shouldn’t only be looking at numbers about social safety, but ask why there is social unsafety in the first place.” Nancy Viellevoije-Geers: “Communication too is essential. It is crucial that people in positions of power become aware that they are both more responsible and more likely to be blind to this.”
Report by Liesbeth Jansen
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The discussion around social safety in academia is arguably more prominent than ever. In universities all over the country, people are wondering how to provide an environment where students and staff feel welcome, safe and respected. But what does social safety actually mean? Why is it important, and who are responsible for a socially safe environment? Come and learn from Ombuds Officer Nancy Viellevoije-Geers about social safety.
Widely used term
It has been hard to miss the past year: the discussion around social safety has sprung up within government institutions, sports organizations, corporations, television programs and universities. Our own university was no exception. With each new revelation about abuses of power, intimidation and other malpractices, the discussion around socially safe environments broadens. The term is now so widely used, that the question rises whether we are all talking about the same thing. Is social safety a general goal we can all strive towards, or is its meaning highly context dependent? And how can we prevent the term from becoming too broad, and thus empty?
Universities have always been places where an increasingly diverse collection of opinions, backgrounds and identities meet. With this diversity comes a collective responsibility to make sure everyone feels welcome and is respected. How does this responsibility shape our university’s policy? What progress is being made and in which areas is there still work to be done? And is social safety a goal that can be attained, or is it a practice that will always need attention?
Radboud Ombuds Officer Nancy Viellevoije-Geers and another Radboud University employee discuss these and related questions. Philosopher Cees Leijenhorst moderates the conversation. Come and ask your own questions!
About the speakers
Nancy Viellevoije-Geers is Ombuds Officer at Radboud University. She has a background in Dutch Law and worked as an employment lawyer for more than thirty years. She has been active as registered mediator since 2004, and provides mediation processes in healthcare and education. In her capacity as Ombuds officer, she works to promote social safety within Radboud University.
Lotje Siffelsis a PhD candidate at the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies at Radboud University. In her research she focusses on digital ethics and the googlization of health. Additionally, she is a member of the Advisory Committee on Social Safety and Inclusion (ACSSI) at the Department of Philosophy, Theology and Religious Studies and founding member of 0.7 (zeropointseven).
Rizka Simonsis a student Law and Management at Radboud University. She is the former chair of the Student Council.
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This is a program Radboud Reflects and Radboud Diversity Equity and Inclusion Office.
De discussie over sociale veiligheid in de academische wereld is misschien wel prominenter dan ooit. Op universiteiten in het hele land vragen mensen zich af hoe ze een omgeving kunnen bieden waar studenten en medewerkers zich welkom, veilig en gerespecteerd voelen. Maar wat betekent sociale veiligheid eigenlijk? Waarom is het belangrijk en wie zijn verantwoordelijk voor een sociaal veilige omgeving? Kom en leer van ombudsfunctionaris Nancy Viellevoije-Geers over sociale veiligheid.
Het was het afgelopen jaar moeilijk te missen: de discussie rond sociale veiligheid heeft de kop opgestoken binnen overheidsinstellingen, sportorganisaties, bedrijven, televisieprogramma's en universiteiten. Onze eigen universiteit was geen uitzondering. Met elke nieuwe onthulling over machtsmisbruik, intimidatie en andere misstanden wordt de discussie rond sociaal veilige omgevingen breder. De discussie over sociale veiligheid in de academische wereld is misschien wel prominenter dan ooit. De term wordt inmiddels zo veel gebruikt, dat de vraag rijst of we het allemaal over hetzelfde hebben. Is sociale veiligheid een algemeen doel waar we allemaal naar kunnen streven, of is de betekenis ervan sterk contextafhankelijk? En hoe kunnen we voorkomen dat de term te breed wordt, en dus leeg?
Universiteiten zijn altijd plaatsen geweest waar een steeds diversere verzameling van meningen, achtergronden en identiteiten elkaar ontmoeten. Met deze diversiteit komt een collectieve verantwoordelijkheid om ervoor te zorgen dat iedereen zich welkom voelt en wordt gerespecteerd. Hoe geeft deze verantwoordelijkheid vorm aan het beleid van onze universiteit? Welke vooruitgang wordt er geboekt en op welke gebieden is er nog werk aan de winkel? En is sociale veiligheid een doel dat bereikt kan worden, of is het een praktijk die altijd aandacht nodig zal hebben?
Radboud ombudsfuntionaris Nancy Viellevoije-Geers en een andere medewerker van de Radboud Universiteit bespreken deze en aanverwante vragen. Filosoof Cees Leijenhorst modereert het gesprek. Kom en stel je eigen vragen!
Over de sprekers
Nancy Viellevoije-Geersis ombudsfunctionaris aan de Radboud Universiteit. Zij heeft een achtergrond in Nederlands recht en is meer dan dertig jaar arbeidsrechtadvocaat geweest. Sinds 2004 is zij bemiddelaar en verzorgt zij bemiddelingstrajecten in de zorg en het onderwijs. In haar hoedanigheid van ombudsfunctionaris zet zij zich in voor de sociale veiligheid binnen Radboud Universiteit.
Lotje Siffels is promovendus aan de Faculteit der Filosofie, Theologie en Religiewetenschappen van de Radboud Universiteit. Ze richt zich in haar onderzoek op digitale ethiek en de googlization van gezondheid. Verder is zij lid van de adviescommissie voor sociale veiligheid van haar faculteit.
Rizka Simons is voormalig USR voorzitter en student Recht en Management aan de Radboud Universiteit.