On the 7th of October 2021, four of my fellow students (Annabel, Hanna, Luka and Anneloes) and I, decided to found what would soon be called the Social Safety Care Club, or in short: SSCC. It all started in what may be familiar to any (ex-)Radboud student reading this, our beloved Culture Café. Cozily seated in the big brown chairs, sipping a hot beverage of choice, we discussed an issue close to all of our hearts: social safety. Now, already a few months later, I was asked to write down our motivations for starting this club.
We noticed that many of us had experienced something in relation to social safety – or rather unsafety – or had some concerns about the topic in general. Sharing our own thoughts and experiences that day was, to say the least, a relief. Finding each other, on equal footing as students, and being able to freely share and reach out, took a bit of weight off our shoulders. In that moment we realized that something very valuable was happening, something that we wanted to facilitate for a bigger part of the student population at our faculty.
Our initial idea was simple: creating a safe space. The first requirement was that it would be strictly for students, to provide a space where hierarchy and power relations are not at stake. The space is thus reserved for all the students who are dealing with any kind of feelings of unsafety or concerns about social safety, may they be seemingly insignificant or incredibly profound. We reserved a room in the Erasmus building for every Tuesday of the rest of the semester, created an Instagram account (as any 21st century organization must to gain a bit of traction), and designed colorful posters. Ever since, on Tuesdays, we enter this safe space together, eat cookies, share and listen.
While trying to formulate what the SSCC should provide, we realized our aims were twofold. First up was the creation of a space for recognition and belonging. We had all heard of different individual cases of students at the faculty, that would fall under the broad header of social safety. Unfortunately, many people, us included, who go through something concerning social safety are unaware that other people might be going through something similar or have done so in the past. Experiencing feelings of unsafety can cause loneliness or feelings of alienation, even in a small and relatively close-knit faculty as ours. Solely the sharing of experiences and stories, can lead to recognition, bring relief and lead to a sense of belonging. These are seemingly basic things, but they can make a big difference when you go through something, and we aspired that the SSCC renders this.
It is no secret; the topic of social safety has been on the faculty agenda in the past years. Although a faculty board engaging in the topic so explicitly might be a significant step forward in times still notably marked by silence and unwillingness to act within institutions, we were left unsatisfied with the place created for students to add to this topic. Students have very different experiences within universities than, for example, senior staff-members. Therefore, as our second aim, we wanted the SSCC to provide a platform not only for voicing personal experiences but also for what ‘lives’ among students regarding specific questions of social safety within universities.
Now, how do we approach all this? We have weekly ‘walk-in’ hours every Tuesday during which we take a problem-based approach and are guided primarily by what the students present want to talk about. Next to this, we have monthly theme meetings in which we discuss more specific topics, such as the “culture traject” the faculty is going through, or diversity within the academic world.
We believe that the university must be an open place for everyone, and to be able to welcome everyone means that it must be safe for everyone.
As we emphasize that any concern or issue is welcome in our ‘regular’ share meetings, we talk about a diverse range of topics. For example, we have talked about the correct use of pronouns by teachers and fellow students in the classroom. In university systems such as OSIRIS you can already select your preferred pronoun, but this is not yet something everyone is aware of – or sensitive to – in daily university life. We have also discussed the classroom environment in times of increased political polarization between left and right. These tensions can occasionally manifest themselves in the classroom as well. Or, as a final example, we have exchanged thoughts about the experience of a lack of diversity among teaching staff, especially for those who are a member of an underrepresented group, such as women, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. In our sharing meetings, we make sure that we give attention to each topic raised, and openly discuss questions such as: how do you, as a person, deal with such feelings of unsafety? How can we build an environment for the constructive discussion of these issues in class?
Needless to say, the more private and sensitive stories concerning misconduct or personal grievances remain within the four walls of our meeting room. Especially during those moments of sharing, we are very explicit about the fact that we are not in the disposition of offering any psychological or professional help. Instead, we try to make students aware of the many places they can go to within the university when they experience any problems. You can think of the team of student advisors present in each faculty, or the university-broad trust persons you can rely on.
Next to there being a significant group of students that is unaware of these possibilities, or unsure where exactly they must go with their concerns, we understand that it can also be scary to open up, ask for help, or file a complaint. Taking this step is a big one, especially due to your vulnerable position. Here, the SSCC comes in, by no means replacing any of the existing resorts for troubled students, but creating a new, additional one, albeit with a slightly different character. A safe space among equals, both in position and relative age, who listen to you, provide you with information about where you can go for help within the university, and offer to accompany in the proceeding process. It can be a place for those who do not dare to take the first step alone.
To close, I want to share that at the foundation of the SSCC lies this: we believe that the university must be an open place for everyone, and to be able to welcome everyone means that it must be safe for everyone. Safe to develop, to learn, to exchange knowledge, to gain experiences. And if the SSCC, by simply opening our doors every Tuesday, can add to this in any shape or form, we are proud to do so.
The Social Safety Care Club meets once a week on Tuesdays in the Erasmus building in room E16.18 at 12:30-13:30. We are active on Instagram (@socialsafetycareclub), and with any question/thoughts/input can be contacted via email@example.com.