#metoo: EPFL students denounce harassment, racism cases

The EPFL is one of two Swiss federal institutes of technology - both of which do well in international university rankings Keystone / Jean-christophe Bott

Students at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) have called out cases of unreported sexism, homophobia and racism at the institution. The EPFL says it has “zero tolerance” for such behaviour.

This content was published on December 3, 2020 - 10:24

PolyquityExternal link, a student association for gender equality at EPFL, has posted a video on social media of five testimonies from students pointing to latent discrimination, including sexist remarks, sexual harassment, threats and homophobia. It said it had decided to use these channels to make the EPFL aware of the issue.

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“Every woman has a story to tell and it’s a good moment for people to realise the extent of the problem,” Marijn Van Der Meer, the president of Polyquity, told Swiss public television RTSExternal link, which first revealed the story.

“We have already collected around 20 testimonies… and since we published the video, a further 20 have arrived. I hope this is going to cause a shock,” she told RTS earlier this week.

“The EPFL management must react and take measures immediately. We have realised that nobody has dared to complain and that they did not know where to get help,” Van Der Meer added.

EPFL: zero tolerance

EPFLExternal link president Martin Vetterli – who had already posted a message on twitter in support for Polyquity’s work soon after the news broke – thanked the association for its professionalism and said the testimonies were “absolutely shocking”. “We have zero tolerance for sexist and homophobic behaviour, but it’s a fact that there is a masculine atmosphere at EPFL,” Vetterli told RTS’ Forum programme on Wednesday eveningExternal link. “It’s simply proof that some men have self-esteem issues themselves.”

EPFL spokeswoman Corinne Feuz told the Keystone-ATS news agency that there were places at the EPFL for students to register complaints: both internally with the Respect UnitExternal link and the Student AffairsExternal link service and externally with an independent mediator.

“For a campus of 17,000 people, we have received very few complaints. Between 2009 and 2017, four sexual harassment complaints were made,” the spokeswoman said.

EPFL will be working with Polyquity to take action, Feuz added. In addition, the institution will have a new vice president who will be in charge of diversity and sustainability starting in January, she said.

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