5 December 2018 • Gideon Wille
“If something doesn’t feel right, don’t carry it around with you.”
Bullying, discrimination, aggression. Unfortunately, we encounter these types of issues at our university of applied sciences, too. If you are facing such problems, we have ten Confidential Advisors who can help you. We have recently divided the confidential advisors into two groups, one for students and one for staff. Confidential Advisors Wil van den Heuvel (staff) and Maria Vanlaeken-Kester (students) explain what their job entails.
Why have the confidential advisors been split into students and staff?
Maria: “When you function separately you gain more expertise because you get more of the same types of cases. You develop more knowledge and gain more background information. And you also build up a specific network that you can use for additional support for the student or staff member.”
Is there a difference between the reports from students and staff?
Maria: “The reports are varied, but students experience cyberbullying and reports about problems at internship companies are specific to students. The supervisors at an internship company are often not didactically schooled and students are vulnerable because they are in a dependant one-on-one relationship.”
Wil: “With staff you often encounter issues related to employment relations. For example, that a staff member feels that a negative performance assessment has come out of nowhere. Then they feel insecure, and find themselves in a situation of dependency.”
Can anyone come to you with any kind of issue?
Maria: “It doesn’t matter whether or not there is a case of unacceptable behaviour, bullying or discrimination, it is about how the person reporting the issue feels. In principle, we tackle only school-related issues. But we never turn anyone away; we can also refer them on. With study-related problems we bring the student into contact with the student counsellor. And vice versa, the student counsellor often sends students to us.”
What can you do for someone who reports an issue?
Wil: “Often all people need is to tell us their story. Then they know they are being taken seriously. By asking questions, you help people to clarify things. It gives them an idea of the available options. They often say: Yes, I thought that myself. People doubt themselves, they are insecure. It helps when we tell them that it’s quite normal to be unhappy about the situation. That acknowledgement in itself is nice.”
Do you also mediate?
Wil: “First, we always try to get the person making the report to talk to the person they are reporting. We sometimes accompany them to the meeting. We support the person making the report, but we don’t mediate between them and the person they are reporting. You can’t serve two masters; if you mediate, you come in between the parties, while our role is to be there for the person making the report. We can refer someone to a mediator for instance.”
I can imagine your job can be quite tough. What motivates you?
Maria: “It is great that you can really help people. Sometimes it’s simply by listening, so someone can let off steam. Sometimes you help by giving ideas so the person can find their own solution.”
Wil: “You are dealing with people who are in a difficult position, they don’t know where to go. It’s nice that you can be there for them, offer suggestions and connect people. You can see things from a different perspective to the person reporting, as you are at a distance.”
Do you have any tips?
Wil: “The reports we receive often regard miscommunication. So, don’t jump to conclusions so quickly, listen to each other and try to understand what motivates the other person.”
Maria: “If something doesn’t feel right, don’t carry it around with you. It’s normal to encounter issues.”
If you would like to know more about what the confidential advisors can do for you, then the intranet has an overview of the entire support system and complaints structure and specific information on the VPOO for staff. Students can find more information on the confidential advisors on this intranet page.
The confidential advisors, from left to right: Hanriëtte Ruigt, Leo Dols, Kirsten Steenks, Danielle Dersjant, Maria Vanlaeken-Kester, Wil van den Heuvel and Cecilia Tan.
Wil van den Heuvel: “Often all people need is to tell us their story.”