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UZH News

CommUNIty Campaign

Look Up – Speak Up – Step Up

UZH has launched a new campaign to combat discrimination and foster an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation. Deputy President Gabriele Siegert introduces the campaign and gives tips on resolving conflict.
Melanie Nyfeler; English translation by Caitlin Stephens


Gabriele Siegert im Interview
Gabriele Siegert: "The university is a place for freedom of expression, we are allowed to address things from different perspectives. But the way in which we do so should be values-based and non-discriminatory."

UZH shows its colors: as you walk around the university today, you will notice the bright posters, announcements on the IBIS screens and social media posts with videos about the CommUNIty campaign. The hub for the campaign is the new website, which summarizes at a glance how students, postdocs, teaching staff, employees and managers can treat each other with respect and appreciation. The website also clearly sets out the kind of behavior that will not be tolerated – such as discrimination, racism, sexual harassment, bullying, abuse of power, and violence.

If we see such things happening, or if we are ourselves are the target, it is important that we do not look away but instead address the inappropriate behavior and if necessary seek help from a line manager or an advisory service. The many support centers and services available to assist in such cases are listed on the new website, along with information about what to expect if you raise a concern.

If you are well informed and seek advice early, you can act prudently and prevent a potentially difficult situation from escalating. That’s why it’s important to properly clarify situations from the start, says Deputy President Gabriele Siegert in this interview about the new campaign.

Is there a specific reason why this campaign against discrimination is coming at this particular time?

Gabriele Siegert: No. But you don’t wait until the horse has bolted to close the stable door. We wanted to take the opportunity to think about what UZH stands for and what kind of atmosphere is fostered within our community. The campaign basically brings together under one umbrella various existing statements and commitments from documents that are already officially adopted and are well-anchored in university processes – such as our Mission Statement, Leadership and Management Principles, Diversity Policy and Regulations on Protection against Sexual Harassment.

Briefly, what kind of behavior do we want to see at UZH?

At UZH we show respect and consideration for others, I would say. The university is a place for freedom of expression, we are allowed to address things from different perspectives. But the way in which we do so should be values-based and non-discriminatory. In most cases, we already communicate in this way, but it would be wishful thinking to say this is true in every case.

What aspects are particularly important to you personally?

As old-fashioned as it may sound, behaving with decency. For me, it’s about thinking about the tone and form of how we respond to each other and to people whose opinions may differ from ours. We need to respect the fact that people have different views, and also be capable of defending our own point of view in a measured way without vilifying, humiliating or discrediting the other person.

With around 29,000 students and 7,000 employees, there are bound to be conflicts from time to time.

Yes, of course. The important thing is to be aware of a conflict and what it’s about. The first step is to clarify the facts. Did the other person behave in the way that is being claimed? Was it intentional or was their behavior misinterpreted? To find out these things, you need to have a conversation with both parties. The second step is about finding a solution – together.
Some long-term conflicts can’t be solved like this, for example if two colleagues simply can’t stand each other. But they should still make an effort to be professional and respectful in their dealings with one another. If they can’t manage that, it’s time to involve the direct line manager or an advisory service. We’re not saying that no one should ever lose their temper – it can happen to the best of us – but we all need to find a way to reach a solution despite the animosity we may feel.

Nevertheless, some cases clearly constitute harassment or even bullying...

Yes, and such things certainly happen at UZH just as they do elsewhere. In my opinion, it becomes bullying when communication is not based on facts but focuses on the person. It must be possible to voice criticism, especially in an academic environment – but it should be related to facts, not personal attributes. For example, it’s okay to say: “I’m not satisfied with your performance because such and such was not complied with.” But telling someone “you’re obviously too stupid to do this work” is not acceptable. Attributing failure to perform a task to a person’s lack of ability and possibly even linking it to socio-demographic characteristics such as sex, age or sexual orientation is completely unprofessional and has no place at UZH.

How should one proceed in such cases?

We have a broad range of advisory services. These are now listed in one place on the new website, so that those affected can quickly get the information they need, find support and work out next steps. Past experience has shown that if people engage with these services, a solution can be found for almost all conflicts. Only in very few cases were more far-reaching consequences necessary, and these cases had very different individual contexts.

Are the advisory services really independent?

Yes, absolutely. In my experience, the counselors and advisors have a great deal of empathy for people’s situations and do their very best to help.

People may still be afraid to take action because they are in a dependent position in a professional relationship. What do you advise them?

Of course there are hierarchical relationships at UZH as in all walks of life, but even if you are lower down the hierarchy you should be able to address things openly and stand up for yourself. Many managers are surprisingly receptive when it is brought to their attention that they have behaved inappropriately. Again, that’s why it’s important to clarify the facts at the beginning, so that we can tease out the cases where actual misconduct has taken place and take the appropriate measures.

However, there is often the expectation that all you have to do is complain and an outside authority will defuse the situation – without any further action on your part. That’s not how it works: both sides have to have the opportunity to explain what exactly happened. Consultations are confidential, but at some point it will be necessary for the affected person to be involved and no longer anonymous, so that action can be taken. If he or she is not willing to do this under any circumstances, then there’s unfortunately nothing further we can do.

Weiterführende Informationen

For Each Other, For Each Other: at UZH we treat each other with respect and tolerance – regardless of age, disability, sex, gender identity, skin color, origin, religion, sexual orientation, social and professional status or language. These are the values to which we are all committed.

More info