The term awareness translates as consciousness and attention. The new awareness portal of the University of Magdeburg, which went online on October 11, aims to create awareness for discrimination, but also for the quality of studies and teaching. Initiated by a working group at the university that has been dealing with the topic of anti-discrimination for years, and which also included actors from the Office for Equality and Family, the portal is now intended to stand for the entirety of the university and, above all, to be available to all members of the university who - also anonymously - are looking for help or contact persons or would like to inform themselves. In this interview, Dr. Fingerhut-Säck, the central equal opportunities officer at Magdeburg University, explains why the portal now exists, how it is to be used, and why it can be a real asset for the university community.
The awareness portal has just gone online. Awareness is perhaps a term that is not immediately familiar: What does it mean?
Awareness means attention and that forms of discrimination are recognized and made visible. If such cases are observed, that someone is found, for example an awareness officer or an awareness officer, who can be addressed. In other words, creating awareness for discrimination-free spaces and making contact persons visible.
What are the benefits of the awareness portal?
The portal is a reporting platform for cases of discrimination, disadvantage, (sexual) harassment and violence as well as for general feedback on studying and teaching. In addition, there is a wealth of information, overviews and links for knowledge transfer.
The main goal is to provide a supportive environment where every person can feel free and safe to share their experience or concern quickly and easily without worrying about possible consequences. This means that the portal can of course be used to complain about discrimination, but on the other hand, feedback or suggestions for improvement in the context of studying and teaching can also be submitted.
The website is divided into two sections: There is a path for discrimination and one for feedback in the course of quality assurance in studies. All around, there is still a great deal of information and advice for anyone who wants to find out more about the topic in general. The aim is to lower the inhibition threshold to come forward with a personal concern, to bundle the information and to professionalize the process.
The goal is for users to quickly get an overview of who might be suitable contacts. So it is by no means just a matter of people being able to complain, but the aim of the portal is also to make all relevant information on the subject of anti-discrimination available on one platform.
To what extent was there a need to set up this portal? How did it come into being?
According to the General Equal Treatment Act (AGG), all employers must set up a complaints office where those affected can complain if they feel discriminated against on racist grounds, on the basis of their gender, religion, disability, age or sexual identity. In September last year, the Guideline against Discrimination and Sexualized Violence was adopted at the University of Magdeburg, which describes the procedural processes of complaints and prevention and protection measures in more detail and thus supports the work of the complaints office. Through the awareness portal, the guideline, which has now been in place for over a year, is also practically applied, implemented and, not least, made visible.
The Awareness Portal contains all information about the Complaints Office at Magdeburg University, its members and other contact persons for students and employees. Every complaint that is submitted via the portal is processed by the Complaints Office. Complaints can also be reported directly to the Complaints Office or contact persons, but the portal is only one of several possible ways.
Last but not least, the portal should also create a general awareness of discrimination and show that we as a university community take the issue seriously. In this way, international students should also feel safe to report incidents of any kind.
Dr. Fingerhut Säck was part of the working group that initiated the awareness portal. (Photo: Jana Dünnhaupt/Uni Magdeburg)
Who or where could people with problems turn to before? To what extent is the portal now a relief?
The possibility of seeking help and complaining has of course always existed - be it via the complaints office or other contact persons and interest groups. The advantage of the portal is that all relevant information is in one place, digital forms can be used to report directly via the site, the appropriate contact persons can be found quickly, more transparency is created regarding the course of a complaints procedure, and information on data protection and terms is provided. If complaints increase in one area, even anonymously, more targeted measures can be taken and solutions found more efficiently. Another new feature is that complaints are documented centrally so that a broad overview can be created for further action.
Feel free to take me through the process: Let's say I have a problem. What is the process?I report something and then?
If you go to the portal, you will see that it is divided into two parts. On the left you will find the possibility to report an incident, on the right you can give feedback about studies and teaching.
Let's say you want to complain because you were sexually harassed. Then click on "Report Incident" and then fill out a form. The page also has a detailed explanation of how the complaint process works. The complaint office then receives the complaint - of course all information is treated confidentially and in accordance with data protection - and accompanies you in the process from here on. The complaints office calls in commissions on the case, which can, for example, conduct interviews with all persons involved and, at best, clarify the case or pronounce measures - all in personal consultation with you. The complaints office will keep you continuously informed about the process. In their case, I as the Equal Opportunity Officer would also be involved because of the subject matter, as this falls within my scope of work. The complete process on how to deal with a complaint is laid down, this includes deadlines on which you will be informed. At the end, all persons involved are informed about the outcome and the incident is documented
How can the statements be checked, for example, to filter out false statements?
The review of each complaint lies with the Complaints Office. This process is always the same, regardless of whether a complaint is submitted via the portal or someone goes directly to one of the contact persons. First and foremost, the Complaints Office and all other contact persons are there to receive the complaint without prejudice.
This is because it is sufficient to feel subjectively disadvantaged or discriminated against; whether the incident objectively constitutes disadvantage or harassment is irrelevant for the right to complain. Circumstantial evidence of disadvantage is sufficient; the Complaints Office and the commissions examine every report. The procedure is terminated if no sufficient and factual indications can be identified; if necessary, measures can also be taken to rehabilitate the person who has been wrongly accused. Generally, a complaint, even if it involves false suspicions, only ends up with persons with a duty of confidentiality who are also sensitized to such cases - the reports are not made public by name. And in the worst case, if it really is about something criminal, it is ultimately the responsibility of the police.
Looking back at my personal experience as a trusted person, I do not believe that the portal is abused for false suspicions. But if it is, I would like to note that false suspicions can happen with or without the portal.
And at the end, please complete the following sentence: The Awareness Portal is an enrichment for OVGU because...
this gives us the opportunity to work on a discrimination-free space on campus through another instrument and, above all, to create more awareness at Magdeburg University. In addition, we bundle all help points and information on the topic so that those affected always know immediately who they can turn to if necessary.