"There's no tolerance for these acts!"

Two major events have marked campus life at the University of Montpellier over the past month. The week of action against LGBT+ phobias and the days of action against violence against women. Julie Boiché, vice-president in charge of social responsibility, and Agnès Fichard Carroll, vice-president in charge of training and university life, and head of the equality mission, take a look back at these key events.

©nanzeeba stock.adobe.com

The University of Montpellier is committed to fighting all forms of violence. Is this a commitment that concerns your two vice-presidencies? Can you tell us more about your respective areas of responsibility?

JB: I've been in charge of the LGBT + phobias week, anti-racism and anti-Semitism days and, more generally, all initiatives relating to these two themes. I'm also in charge of reporting cases of violence or discrimination based on criteria other than gender.
AFC: My mission concerns gender equality, and the fight against sexist and sexual violence is one of the inseparable aspects of this.

In 2020, Anti-Homophobia Week has been renamed LGBT+ Phobias Week. Why is this?

JB: To be as inclusive as possible and take into account concerns that are becoming increasingly complex. So why LGBT+ and not LGBTQI+ or QIA+? Because we find that the first letters are often the best identified. However, questions relating to gender identities as distinct from sexual orientation are increasingly raised in today's society. That's why we've devoted the round table to these two themes.

The days of action against violence against women at the UM coincide with the national day organized on November 25, but this is not the case for the week against LGBT+ phobias. Why does the UM calendar differ?

JB: It's true that the international day against LGBT+ phobias is held on May 17. It's an intense time for students and staff alike. The UM makes sure that the university community is ready to take on board these messages, which means spreading communication throughout the year, even if it means sometimes being out of step with the national or international calendar.

To mark the week against LGBT+ phobias, you carried out a micro-test among students on 4 UM campuses. Is this the first time such an action has been carried out?

JB: Yes, we went to STAPS, Richter, Triolet and also the Perpignan Faculty of Education, and we asked questions of the students who agreed to play the game. The first question was about the meaning of the acronym LGBTQI+, then we asked them if they thought it was possible to take part in the fight against LGBT+ phobias when you're not LGBT+ yourself.

What were the answers?

JB: Even if all the LGBTQI letters aren't always identified their responses have been positive about being concerned. The student community is aware of all these forms of discrimination and parallels have been drawn with racism and SGBV.

Do they know how to take action against these forms of violence and discrimination?

JB: This was the subject of our third question, and they talked about the idea of holding demonstrations, awareness campaigns from an early age to make this the norm, to listen, and not to monopolize their word... As for what the University could do to help them, they talked about pride, organizing festive events to create a more positive framework around these issues. During the round-table discussion, Flora Boltere, co-director of the LGBTI+ Observatory at the Institut Jean Jaurès, shed light on the fact that, unintentionally, the way we express ourselves can contribute to feeding a heterocentric and normative vision.

During the UM's days of action against violence against women, improvisational theater was used to reflect on different ways of tackling this sensitive subject. Were any solutions proposed?

AFC: Improv theater isn't really about providing solutions. It should be seen more as a reflective activity on the subject of SSV. Why do we laugh at certain situations and can we laugh at them, why do some generate emotion, others less so? I think it's important to vary approaches, on this subject as on others, to raise awareness among as many people as possible: some people will be more receptive to a lecture, others to a film, still others to self-defense actions such as those we propose.

Do certain UM professionals need to be made more aware of these issues?

AFC: Yes, of course. The members of the disciplinary sections have had special training, for example, because they need to be able to investigate these delicate cases as effectively as possible. Prevention assistants have also recently been made aware of this issue. In addition to the general training courses that are also available and necessary, our aim is to target specific audiences who will be in a position to guide victims.

A dedicated VSS guide has also been produced and distributed. What does it contain?

AFC : The idea for the guide came to us after meeting several victims. We were delivering too much information at once for them to retain... especially as the stress of the situation doesn't help with memorization. The guide was designed with the help of all our teams, the DVC, the DRH, the DAGI and the SCMPPS, all of whom I'd like to thank for their commitment to these issues.

It contains information on the definition of gender-based and sexual violence, as well as legal and psychological aspects... We can give it to the victim so that she can better understand what is happening to her, how she can be supported and guided, and what steps or procedures she can initiate...

Were the students interviewed in the micro-trottoir aware of what to do when they witness or are victims of discrimination or sexual and gender-based violence?

JB: They've come up with some interesting ideas, often geared towards the interests of the victims: intervening to stop the acts, sheltering them, asking them if they need support, if they want to take action or not, which isn't always self-evident. Passing on information so that sanctions can be applied, because there is no tolerance for these acts...

The University has set up an online form for reporting such violence, whether sexist or sexual, homophobic, racist or anti-Semitic...

JB: Yes, this form was designed to frame reports in as complete and precise a way as possible, and to ensure that the process is followed up. In some cases, SSV and discrimination are linked, and that's why we wanted to have a single listening unit, because things are intertwined. Several contacts, including my own, Agnès' and that of Laure Parmentier, head of the Quality of Life at Work department, can be called upon. The listening unit also includes a number of UM departments specializing in support.

AFC : Our shared concern is, of course, the confidentiality of what is said to us: without the victim's consent, nothing will be broadcast, unless, of course, the victim is in danger. The form is also there to help victims clarify what happened to them. They can keep it to themselves if they wish, but it helps them to establish things: the date, the place, the witnesses, the facts.... After a few days, the events may become less clear in their memory, so it's important to keep a record, especially as it can take some time for victims to decide to talk. I also think it's important to emphasize that all reports are dealt with, and can lead to referral to the disciplinary section, and thus to sanctions against the perpetrators.

Regarding the inclusion of LGBT+ people, the UM recently signed a charter with the association l'Autre cercle?

JB: Yes, there has been a strong commitment to these issues at the UM since its creation, since as early as 2016, we were the first French university to sign the charter of the association l'Autre cercle in favor of greater inclusion for LGBT+ staff in the workplace. This involves, for example, greater vigilance over the confidentiality of information transmitted, or better access for all to information on the mechanisms that exist in terms of parenthood, family rights... We have just signed an updated version of this charter which is no longer limited to staff but also includes male and female students.

The UM has also produced a leaflet to combat discrimination in recruitment?

JB : Yes, since 2021 this "Recruiting without discrimination" brochure has been distributed to all staff in a position to recruit someone, as well as during MCF competitive examinations.

AFC: It's important for jury members to be aware of the cognitive biases that can affect any judgment.

Has the gender equality plan led to the implementation of any new actions for VSS?

AFC: The development of the VSS guide was part of this plan, but I could also cite as examples the training of trainers for the "Oser" program, a training program for women that is working very well, or the end of the prorating based on working hours of increased allowances for pregnant women.

Is a certification process underway for these issues?

JB: Yes, we have applied to Afnor for the ALLIANCE, equality and diversity label, and we are currently finalizing the assessment process. It's a process that encourages us to reflect, to take stock and to imagine other actions in areas we might not otherwise have identified.

AFC: This label is designed to promote commitments other than those we've just mentioned, such as equal opportunities for people with disabilities. We hope to be able to extend it to the whole university at a later date, but we believe that our actions are for everyone: it's important for us to have a common culture of diversity and equality.