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Research into social safety at universities

28 February 2022
Sociologist Zakia Essanhaji of VU Amsterdam is researching social (un)safety at universities. The research 'How (not) to complain: towards an inclusive understanding of social safety' is funded by SoFoKles. The research results are used to describe policy and practice around social safety. This way, universities can offer a safe and inclusive workplace. Essanhaji is looking for participants for this research.

By conducting semi-structured interviews with employees from historically underrepresented groups at Dutch universities, Essanhaji wants to map out which different experiences of social unsafety they have or have had in their daily work at the university and in what ways they report it, officially or unofficially. Essanhaji: "I focus on what can be the hindering and facilitating factors in reporting this and the way universities deal with (un)official complaints. I use these experiences and the reactions to them to formulate points of departure for improving the policy and practice surrounding social safety."

The research is funded by the ‘Sociaal Fonds voor de Kennissector’ (SoFoKleS). SoFoKleS contributes to the retention, promotion and improvement of the academic labour market and working environment. "It is very important that such research is funded to further expand our knowledge on social safety at Dutch universities. Often, the dominant reaction is that such a phenomenon does not occur 'here', but elsewhere at another university in another country, or that it was just an 'incident'. However, the experiences of transgressive behaviour at various universities that have made the news in recent years and recent investigations by the Young Academy in 2021 and the LNVH in 2019 show how social insecurity is not the result of a 'series of incidents'. On the contrary, it is a structural phenomenon that many people working at universities face in their everyday work," Essanhaji said. "With this grant, I hope to make more visible precisely what is often made invisible in the way these complaints are dealt with."

Zakia Essanhaji is the project leader of the research and is conducting the interviews. The research project is part of her dissertation on inequality within universities and the way universities develop diversity policies to combat this inequality. Her supervisors are Prof. Dr. Maurice Crul from VU Amsterdam and Dr. Rogier van Reekum from Erasmus University Rotterdam. 

For the research, Essanhaji is looking for university employees from (historically) underrepresented groups, in terms of 'gender', gender identity, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and nationality. Furthermore, you need to be currently or in the past 5 years under contract at a Dutch university. You can register to participate in the study until 14 March 2022. Do you want to participate in the study? Or do you have any questions? Please contact Zakia Essanhaji (