“Of the conversations with students, 99 per cent are pleasant and agreeable, but when it is unpleasant, the impact on our staff is significant”, says Stella Verbrugge, head of Student Affairs. Staff will receive extra training, unpleasant behaviour is noted in a file, an ‘attention button’ is being installed and phone calls are recorded from now on. These conversations will be kept for eight weeks, according to a letter sent to the University Council.

According to Verbrugge, there have been no unsafe situations, only unpleasant ones. She says the measures are to help both the ‘annoyed’ students and the staff behind the counter. “We all know the unpleasant feeling when something doesn’t go the way you like, don’t we? Of course, you hope that problems are solved immediately, but that doesn’t always happen. Saying ‘you must take care of this for me now’ is not the way”, Verbrugge gives as an example.

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Afterward often comes the sorry

Panic is often the cause for students to get angry on the phone or at the front desk. That is what the ‘attention button’ is mainly for. After pressing the alarm button, someone from security shows up. Not to send a student away, but to take them aside for a chat. “We all have to learn how to deal with this kind of panicky situation. Having a calm conversation for a while helps. We also do this when students are really late for an exam. We don’t send them away immediately, but there is a chat first.”

The training sessions are nothing new, says Verbrugge. In fact, they were always there, although not so much during the pandemic. The trainings are mainly aimed at teaching staff to stay calm when someone gets angry. “We want our staff to feel safe. Throughout society, you see that discussions escalate more quickly. Fortunately, those moments are really exceptions for us.”

Afterwards, Verbrugge often calls students who have become angry. “When calm has returned, they often apologise. They could have handled it differently, they say.”