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Students project : Discrimination beyond borders

Whether it is #MeToo, #BalanceTonPorc or the student initiative of emlyon business school Balance Ton Stage, all three denounce unequal and abnormal gender relations in society, which are visible in the private and public spheres. However, the starting point of these movements denouncing sexist and sexual violence (abbreviated to VSS in French) remains in the working world and the corporate sphere. Student life is filled with events and meetings, and at a party, over a drink, within a work group, anyone can be a victim or be held guilty of VSS.

That explains why the students in charge of CSR of each emlyon business school student association have received VSS training and have been given the task of training the members of their association in turn. emlyon business school has taken up the issue and has since launched the start of the 2020 academic year several projects led by the school’s CSR Department: the speakup online reporting platform, the formalization of a reporting and support protocol based on the mobilization of a network of internal referents and the launch of various training modules and awareness campaigns aimed at all the school’s stakeholders – students, pedagogical and administrative teams, and staff. The school is not limited to the campus based in Ecully and the subject of VSS is not specific to France. When thinking about intercampus management, we had to think globally. Thus, a call for applications was launched for a makers’ project whose objective was to “educate and inform all students on emlyon campuses” about VSS, by establishing “a communication strategy around VSS for emlyon campuses abroad, that means India, Morocco and China” (Evelyne).

Le M met Evelyne Trieu, a PGE student at emlyon business school’s Ecully campus, member of the BDI and French representative in the project’s multicultural team, as well as Stéphanie Kergall, head of CSR projects at emlyon business school who launched the project.

By Carole Zheng, editor at Verbat’em

“The objective is to create a favorable climate for young people to want to exchange and to advance these themes of diversity and the fight against SGBV, not to violate them so that they do it!”

Stéphanie Kergall

This project is one of the few projects launched this year by the school – shaping the future Learning Hub of the Gerland Hub or the school’s future dining space – that called for direct student participation in emlyon’s strategy.

Before taking the plunge, let’s remind ourselves what is behind the acronym VSS. According to the government’s guide to sexual and gender-based violence, it covers “all situations in which a person imposes on another person one or multiple behaviors, one or multiple comments (oral or written) of a sexual nature”. According to the UNHCR, sexual and gender-based violence refers to “any act committed against a person’s will and based on the different roles that society assigns to men and women, and on unequal power relations (…) [It] can be physical, emotional, psychosocial and sexual in nature (…)”. In both definitions, the notions of coercion and consent are very important. Despite these definitions, it is difficult to identify and qualify the act that may be specified as VSS. Legally, there is a pyramid of acts of VSS ranked according to their seriousness.

Stéphanie Kergall lived several lives before arriving at emlyon. As a long-time reporter, she lived in nearly 60 countries, covering current events with the consuming curiosity of understanding the reality perceived through the prism of the cultural codes of the communities she encountered. When she arrived at emlyon, she brought this sensitivity with her. Her desire is “to gradually instill this fine understanding of cross-cultural issues among the students and the staff”.

As for Evelyne, a PGE student at emlyon after a law degree, and one of the project’s student leaders: “I decided to join this project for several reasons, starting with its intercultural dimension. My own background is multicultural, I grew up with a double culture. This is one of the reasons why I joined the BDI (ed. notes: le Bureau des Internationaux, students who help international students to integrate into the campus). I was really looking forward to working on a project that would have a real impact on emlyon’s foreign campuses. As far as VSS is concerned, I was not an expert on the subject. But, as a student and as a woman, it’s an important topic and I would have liked to have been better informed when I was younger during my studies, before I arrived at emlyon.”

At the root of this makers’ project, we find an extremely rich transcultural experience and a desire to train managers who are well versed in the cultural subtleties of the countries in which they will begin or continue their professional careers.

“This project was an obvious choice. We can no longer launch a project at emlyon without a cross-cultural perspective.”

The project’s roots

The project follows the steps instituted by emlyon’s CSR Department from its creation more than a year and a half ago when the team drew up a list of the school’s priorities, which included VSS at the forefront. To achieve this, the school set up an entire program and surrounded itself with experts, whether in communications, in speaking to the student body or in more technical matters concerning the health, legal and social fields. The anti-SSV program was designed in several stages, considering the real needs of students, who were interviewed according to the associative and academic calendar, to adapt it as well as possible. Let’s take the example of the CRA 2021 (ed. notes: Campagne de renouvellement des associations à liste) with the week about vigilance during which awareness-raising workshops in partnership with L’Oréal in particular were scheduled, or, even the periods preceding the students’ internship, “from the beginning of the school year 2021, all students who leave on internship will be trained on the theme of VSS by a pair made up of a member of Balance ton stage and a member of our Career team in order to know how to react when faced with harassment in the workplace for example.” (S. Kergall)

The first step is prevention, training and getting the message to students. The school has launched the speakup reporting platform. Many actors are involved: all emlyon staff are trained in VSS issues and a network of referents appointed in all emlyon programs has been set up to provide students with the best possible support in their schooling and in their student life. To this end, the Wellness Center also plays a key role: “the psychologist and the school nurse are the first people to get the word out, anonymously or overtly. Indeed, we wanted everyone to be able to enter the subject according to their own modesty” (S. Kergall). The culture infiltrates all the layers of the system.

The second stage concerns the post-reporting phase. “In addition to this first step, there is a legal service composed of experts to accompany students, who ask for it, in their legal approach in case of more serious situations.” On the school’s side, the disciplinary council has taken up the subject and the sanction can go as far as the exclusion of the student involved.

The third stage is characterized by “the desire to see emlyon as a global campus”. emlyon welcomes nearly 8,900 students of 120 different nationalities each year, “we have more than half of our students coming from abroad. The questions we asked ourselves were consequential: 1. how to welcome them in our French campuses and make them understand this issue, 2. how to train those who will go abroad, 3. how to send them the desired message.”

Please note that “the goal wasn’t aimed to judge local legislations. We have campuses on site, but each campus is governed by local law. While the training of emlyon staff abroad is also regulated locally, what I wanted was to raise awareness and train students to give them keys that can be applied later in their professional careers (…) we try to develop an overall culture of tolerance, respect for diversity and respect for women in their physical and moral wholeness.” (Stephanie K.)

In more practical and operational terms, the apparent objective was to build a communication strategy around the topic of SGB for emlyon’s campuses abroad, for India, Morocco and China. “Knowing that a strategy to combat SGBV (ndlr : sexual and gender-based violence) was already in place at Ecully, the question was now to extend it to other campuses, while adapting it completely to the local culture. (…) We also had the task of promoting the speakup platform among students so that they could, if they wished, report all kinds of behavioral discrepancies: SGBV or any other type of discrimination. “(Evelyne Trieu)

In terms of organization, what does it look like?

The composition of the team was intelligently thought out to meet the objectives of the project – and go well beyond the deliverables since the ultimate goal is to “create a favorable climate for young people to want to exchange and to advance these themes of diversity and the fight against SGBV, not to force them so that they do it!” (S. Kergall) Three student leaders from the Ecully campus would act as coordinators – one member of the BDI for the international and cultural aspect, one member of the Collectif Olympe for their expertise on the subject, and another member for their operational experience about VSS -, and each campus abroad would be represented by a pair. In the selection of candidate profiles, it was important for Stéphanie Kergall to involve male profiles in the project when there were very good ones: “being able to involve boys in this project was particularly important to me! We have a boy-girl pair for India and Maghreb. (…) It was important for me to leave room for experience. And when a boy gets involved in a project like this, it is never neutral. (…) Your generation sees girls also claiming their rights, however, what better way to defend these rights than to have their male companions by their side?” (Stephanie Kergall) (ed. note: for variety in speech, I refer you to the one given by Emma Watson in 2014 for the HeForShe campaign.)

“(…) we had a lot of freedom in terms of format. Stephanie Kergall, who was our sponsor and belongs to the school’s CSR department, had her goals; she shared them with us and for the rest, she really gave us carte blanche. We had very regular meetings with her; very available for our project, she supported us a lot. After our brainstorming sessions, we would try things out, present them to her, she would give us feedback and we would then adapt. She helped us a lot with resources: she put us in contact with interesting people for our project. It was really ‘convenient’.” (Evelyne T.)

Having such an involved sponsor is a bit unusual in the makers’ project landscape, but not surprising when you know S. Kergall. To carry out her first makers’ project, Stéphanie K. has surrounded herself with a teammate whose profile is extremely complementary to hers: in the face of her ardor and restless energy, she needed to have a calm, structured force by her side.

“Catou Faust is a person with whom I get along extremely well at emlyon; she is one of the school’s professors who best masters cross-culturality. (…) She has a methodological framework. It is important to remember that I did not come from a pedagogical background, I was a reporter. I want to let the students search, to shake up their ideas, to play the role of a shaker. Catou could bring this framework, this organization, this methodology and this structuring of the makers’ project that was missing.”   

The students of the makers’ project very quickly rejected a vision of the project that was too fragmented, namely assigning a student leader to each pair. They chose to involve the student leaders in the three pairs according to the needs and progress of the project to “fluidify and fructify the ideas thanks to the experiences of each one”. (E. Trieu)

“There was a first stage of observation. Each pair made an inventory of the situation of VSS in their country and within the student community. (…) Based on this observation, we decided to have the pairs work separately at first. As each country was in a different situation, we wanted to see the ideas that each pair would develop with their local experience. We had regular meetings that brought all team members together to identify what was interesting and could be reused in tailoring the strategy for other countries.”

“We ended up proposing a ready-made kit of visuals, posters, videos, templates, and messages, all of which were reusable, editable and adaptable, which we handed over to the CSR departments on each campus. To this was added a block of common content and more specific materials addressed to the campuses.” (E. Trieu)

We can read a certain frustration shared by all the students who participated in this makers’ project. They were frustrated that they only stopped at the beginning of the project by delivering this kit of visuals and messages “declined in the most operational way possible”, which was only intended from the beginning to be used and deployed by others. “It was frustrating for the students. But, it’s hard to do both steps in only 4 months. They were in touch with local campus teams in China and Morocco. Each campus has its own priorities at the moment but is keen to move forward on the VSS theme. At Ecully, we will also use their work! For the first week of school, for example, we’ll be welcoming students with t-shirts bearing the visuals and logos they’ve created.” During this latency period before getting feedback from the targeted campuses, their work will in no way be lost, as the CSR department plans to reuse their content and visual proposals in their communication strategy for the Lyon campus.

Focus on the students’ approach: how did they think about the project?

“With COVID, we were all working remotely, even in terms of contacting potential speakers, it was less easy. (…) We were a huge team: 9 students located on 3 different continents, with consequently different time zones and different academic backgrounds, some were on internship, others were taking classes. It was a long project of 5.5 months, with a fast pace. Here again, since we had a lot of freedom, we established our deliverables as we went along, the risk was to keep all the ideas. It should be noted that on emlyon’s campuses abroad, there is a large majority of international students. This detail represented an additional challenge, since in addition to adapting our content to local customs, we also had to make it “universal”, addressable to international students who would be on site. We managed to find the right balance in terms of visuals by working a lot on the notion of “diversity” in general in our materials, referring to the cultural diversity of our students. (…) The next step was to think about how to approach things. In France, we can favour a very direct approach: shocking images for example could work, which is not possible in other countries. (…) In the construction of the workshops, we had to consider the fact that SGBV was still a taboo subject in some countries (…). We therefore had the idea of approaching the subject in the form of a round table with professionals to attract people.”  (E. Trieu)

“I think it’s a great opportunity: to give students the chance to participate in building the school’s strategy. Of course, we don’t have the final say, but just having our opinion considered is already superb, especially since the target audience is still the students.”


What do you keep from the makers’ project?

“What I find exceptional is that by giving the floor to young people, we realize that whatever their culture, we all want the same things (…) The makers’ project was the springboard for many very interesting discussions such as the question of dating: can we still date? And seduction, what does it mean? This cross-cultural project makes us think not only about the relationship between men and women, but also about what femininity is depending on the country we come from. What I found interesting in this project was to bring together students from different emlyon campuses to make them think together about their commonalities and differences.” (S. Kergall)

“What I enjoyed the most about this project was working in an international team, with a variety of backgrounds that had a lot of interest in the topic of SSV. I learned a lot through the inspiration of others. The second point was to be able to work on a project that would have a real impact on the school. I think it’s a great opportunity to give students a chance to participate in building a strategy for the school. Of course, we don’t have the last word, but just having our opinion considered is already a great thing, especially since the target audience is still the students. (…) At the end of the project, the decision is now in the hands of the administration of the foreign campuses. We hope to keep in touch with them to see the progress of this implementation. (…) I would say that on the Ecully campus, we are lucky to have a very active association system. We hope that in one way or another, the association system that may exist abroad will be able to carry this dynamic. As a student, hearing the voice of students on this issue can sometimes get the message across better. “(E. Trieu)

Thank you to our student leaders, Léa Milon, Evelyne Trieu and Lucille Bernet, to the student representatives of the Moroccan campus, Nadia Krifa and Yazid Benmessaoud, to the student representatives of the Indian campus, Abishek Periyasamy and Madhuri Movva, and to the student representatives of the Chinese campus, Xinyi Liu and Xinzhu Zong, for having carried out such a project. A special thanks to Evelyne Trieu for answering our questions. Thank you to Catou Faust for sharing with us her knowledge. 

Finally, thank you to Stéphanie Kergall for launching this project and answering all our questions, and for taking the interview much further than a simple feedback on the makers’ project !