EPFL is acting on harassment

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EPFL has adopted a series of prevention, support and follow-up measures against

EPFL has adopted a series of prevention, support and follow-up measures against harassment. Alain Herzog/EPFL

EPFL has adopted a series of prevention, support and follow-up measures that were recommended by the School’s Harassment Task Force. In a recent survey of the EPFL community, 80% of respondents indicated that they were satisfied with the overall climate on campus but that improvements were needed in terms of safety, equality and efforts to fight discrimination.

EPFL aims to provide its student body and staff with a safe environment where they can grow and flourish. That’s why fighting discrimination, harassment and violence is now a top priority that the School is tackling head-on.

The Task Force Harassment A-Z & Promoting a Culture of Respect was set up in January of this year. It is composed of six inclusive working groups that bring together representatives of the EPFL community, including both AGEPoly and its Polyquity commission - the association that shone a light on harassment at the end of 2020 through its #PayetonEPFL campaign. The Task Force has proposed a number of prevention and de-escalation measures, as well as measures to expand support for victims and to follow up on complaints.

In order to make it easier to report cases of harassment, and to improve the way complaints are handled, the current structure will soon be replaced by two separate resources: the Trust & Support Network, which will be the first point of contact for victims; and the Respect Compliance Office, which will manage complaints. The Respect Compliance Office will be run independently of EPFL by an external person in order to ensure cases are handled impartially and effectively.

Our goal is twofold: first, to train people in the EPFL community likely to be contacted by a victim of harassment on what to do if that happens, including how to advise the person on the next steps to take based on the situation; and second, to have an impartial, effective and compassionate complaint-handling system

"Our goal is twofold: first, to train people in the EPFL community likely to be contacted by a victim of harassment on what to do if that happens, including how to advise the person on the next steps to take based on the situation; and second, to have an impartial, effective and compassionate complaint-handling system," says Gisou van der Goot, EPFL’s Vice President for Responsible Transformation (VPT).

The Task Force’s recommendations also led EPFL to put in place prevention and support measures for School events, including setting up a Safe Zone and providing on-site staff who have been trained to assist harassment victims.

Our goal is twofold: first, to train people in the EPFL community likely to be contacted by a victim of harassment on what to do if that happens, including how to advise the person on the next steps to take based on the situation; and second, to have an impartial, effective and compassionate complaint-handling system

A communications campaign designed to promote a culture of respect is also under way at EPFL’s various sites. The campaign highlights six key values: equality, diversity, dialogue, responsibility, tolerance and inclusion. In addition, a series of online courses is currently being developed for the entire EPFL community. They will be tailored to each segment of our community, and their aim will be to raise people’s awareness of harassment situations, let them know what mechanisms have been put in place, and instruct them on what to do if they are involved in a problem situation whether as a victim, a witness or a person of responsibility at EPFL.

EPFL has just completed a preliminary analysis of the results of the survey on discrimination, violence and harassment at our School. The survey, conducted among the EPFL community, ran from 3 June to 3 July 2021. A total of 2,512 people participated, and 80% of them stated that they were satisfied with the overall climate on campus.

However, 30% of all respondents (and 44% of women respondents) said that they had been victims of discrimination, and one-fourth of female respondents indicated that they had been victims of psychological harassment at EPFL, over the past five years.

For every woman to achieve her full potential, we must all feel safe

When it comes to sexual violence, one-third of women stated that they had been victims of unwanted physical contact, 14% of sexual assault and nearly 3% of rape. The survey also revealed that victims of harassment or discrimination rarely report such incidents largely because they aren’t familiar with the procedure for doing so. And those who do file a report are rarely satisfied with the outcome.

Such acts of violence, while not specific to our School, are unacceptable. And EPFL intends to respond decisively. This includes taking action to address people’s sense of safety, which is a particular concern among female students at EPFL-sanctioned parties, whether on or off campus.

"What saddens us is that so many women, especially among our students, reported feeling unsafe on campus. We must do something about this, as the mere fact of feeling unsafe is in itself harmful. For every woman to achieve her full potential, we must all feel safe. At EPFL, women are able to thrive. Our School is very serious about supporting female scientists and engineers in their careers - for example, 11 of the 17 professors recently appointed at our School are women," says Kathryn Hess, EPFL’s Associate Vice President for Student Affairs.

This initial survey will serve as the foundation and comparison basis for future surveys, which EPFL will conduct regularly in order to measure the impact of the measures put in place.


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