Letter to the Administration

Following violent physical attacks on a member of the student body of Sciences Po, an emergency General Assembly had been organized at the university’s Undergraduate College in Le Havre on 9 December 2021. In compliance with the freedom of press and a general consent from those in concern, Le Dragon Déchaîné has taken the liberty to publish a written version of the letter publicly addressed to students and the administration during the meeting. Any mention of the names of students have been censored due to privacy concerns. The Editorial Board of Le Dragon express their solidarity towards all victims of physical, emotional or psychological abuse, and support the cause of creating a safer space with effective recourse in emergency situations, as well as the nurturing of empathy within the whole of Sciences Po’s community.


“To the Administration of Sciences Po Le Havre, 

We are here today speaking not as individuals, but to voice the collective concerns of a sizeable portion of our student community. The letter we will read aloud to you today was drafted integrating the comments and views of a diverse cross section of our community.

It is with urgent notice that we called both a student meeting and a general forum with the administration to voice certain concerns with regards to structural problems in the administration of the campus. Earlier this week, our student body was made aware of the mishandling of an attack on a first year student that has served as a last straw for many members of the student body. The points detailed in this letter came out of a discussion with more than 160 students on campus, right after the news of the aggression was made public.

We do not intend for this to serve as a personal attack on any individual mentioned in these discussions, but as a way to highlight the shortcomings of their actions. We are sympathetic to the fact that the administrative team is itself overstretched and faces limitations due to structural issues and actions of the Paris campus. We do not wish to impugn them personally. That being said, we will address Acting Director Catherine Droszewski’s response to [X], which we believe has demonstrated an unacceptable callousness and lack of empathy for our lives. 

Less than a week has passed since one of our peers – one of your students – was physically assaulted on the doorsteps of [their] student residence, the A Docks CROUS residence, on December 5. The event transpired in the early hours of the morning and was provoked by a number of masked strangers. When contacting the administration, the student’s pleas for help were left unanswered and dismissed. It was particularly the behaviour of the Campus Director Catherine Droszewski towards this student that was far below what would be expected of any administrator at Sciences Po or any other educational institution. Unfortunately, she not only dismissed the students’ concerns when he confided in her for help but rather, her private correspondence on the matter (which was accidentally sent to the student) reflected what we believe to be an attitude of indifference:

“Sympa, le mail des parents de [X]!”

In a personal conversation, Ms Droszewski further proceeded to downplay the severity of the incident since the student was ultimately ‘not killed in the event’. Upon hearing about this, we are disgusted by this reaction and condemn the administration’s disgraceful and insensitive response to the student. This series of events constitutes the tipping point making once and for all visible the systematic inefficiency of the administration in addressing the needs of the student body, both as academic members of this campus and as citizens of Le Havre.

During our discussion, the examples raised were numerous. 

The Le Havre campus is said to be one of the most international of all Sciences Po campuses; “65% of the student body comes from outside of France”, we were told when applying. However, making a campus international does not just mean offering lessons in English. It means recognising that the international student community needs assistance because it faces a language barrier and a hostile bureaucratised administrative apparatus both inside and outside the campus microcosm. This is seemingly a responsibility our administration is not willing to take. The support is extended only to providing a booklet at the beginning of the year, and that is where it ends. And  when a student comes to ask for help, maybe after being physically assaulted by strangers in Le Havre, the incompetence and inefficiency of the administration in dealing with the matter outweighs any possible support they may be able to offer.

But if we are to return to the key turning point for us as a student body, it was the fact that a student was assaulted, attacked by strangers and no effective support, neither institutional nor emotional, was provided. The student was left on [their] own, while the institution who had the possibility to help [them] not only looked the other way, but also retained an overtly sarcastic and disrespectful attitude. The idea is always to some extent the same – “this is not our responsibility”, “we cannot be held accountable for your life outside of campus”. A smile, a shrug and the problem disappears.

This ultimately begs the question of who we are to turn to, if not each other. 

To date, the Bureau Des Etudiants, among other associations and individuals have shown greater receptiveness to the needs and grievances students have expressed. As students themselves, it leaves them with little support if they take on emotional responsibility for others. We cannot reasonably expect them to be accountable for the protection of the students in the city. That is not something they have been trained to do. This raises the question of responsibility; who ultimately are we to turn to when we really need it?  We cannot expect them to go through the emotional commitment of having to deal with situations as the one we are facing today. We cannot expect them to be available 24/7. The incompetence of the administration has ultimately burdened our associations and Health Ambassadors with additional responsibilities on top of their day-to-day duties. 

What is crucial to highlight is that this is not just an isolated incident but a pattern we have seen time and again from the administration. While the lack of attentiveness towards student life is already unacceptable, the fact that the actual lives of students are dealt with such callousness is outright heinous.

If we are to bring a second case, a 2A student was missing for more than a month. [They] had not attended classes or responded to texts, emails or phone calls for weeks. [Their] parents were not contacted by the admin despite the urgency of the case, nor was any action taken to reach out to them. With an event of a similar nature having taken place with the same individual, the administration showed little initiative for their well-being, especially for a repeat incident. It was only until the BDE had contacted them repeatedly for the student body to learn that they were still in their apartment in Le Havre dealing with personal issues. 

In another case, a 2A student was, quite literally, forced to attend class after suffering a concussion. [They] contacted the administration asking to be excused from class, explaining that [they were] experiencing physical pain and trouble focusing since [their] accident, but was refused any time off by the administration. As a result, [their] condition worsened dramatically, to the point where [they were] unable to walk home after class on 29th November, relying on the help of other students and [their] teacher to get home. Ms Droszewski’s response to this would be condescending, telling [them they] should have stayed home in the first place after having denied [them] the right to do so initially. 

In this way, we are ultimately left with little concrete support for both our physical and mental wellbeing. To reiterate the message we have been given by the admin, whatever happens outside of our campus walls is not the responsibility of the administration. They tell us, “we are not your parents.”

Again, whatever happens outside campus cannot be the responsibility of the Administration, they say. We are not your parents, we have been told. And yet, this is the case only when it comes to helping us. 

When CROUS sends us a noise complaint (as an example of an event transpiring “outside of campus”) the admin is ready to remind us all that, verbatim, “we are young adults and we should behave as such”. And rightfully so. Yet when a student is assaulted in front of a residence that does not have cameras nor a secure gate and that is placed in a distinctly unsafe part of town, the admin seemingly absolves responsibility entirely. Or if it does not, its help is completely inefficient and ultimately insufficient. The crux of the matter is that the administration cannot cherry-pick how much it cares according to the gravity of each incident. 

What we have described until now highlights the presence of general structural issues that need to be addressed. The sources of our grievances during these individual examples can be sorted into five broad categories: 

  1. Lack of Empathy

A worrying trend throughout student testimonies lies with the mishandling of students’ physical or mental needs. Whether it is ridiculing a parent’s email regarding the safety of their child, complete lack of sympathy for the physically injured or ill, or a dismissive “take-it-or-leave-it” stance with regards to mental health, we have been let down time and time again. Why are teachers, but not students offered the benevolence of teaching through zoom when they are inconvenienced, physically or otherwise? It should not take a student nearly collapsing on campus for the admin to begrudgingly give a student a zoom link or excuse an absence. It should not require the death certificate of a grandfather on the day of his death to excuse a student’s absence. It should not be mandatory for us to display our pain to you to prove that we suffer. What will it take to be taken seriously? 

We are not lazy, childish, or entitled. We are invested students, many of whom are struggling mentally and physically. We ask only for empathy, support, and respect, not for our concerns to be met with condescension, suspicion, or ridicule. We apologise if these human emotions are not stated in your contracts and lie outside the administration’s call of duty. Nevertheless, it is our belief that a baseline level of respect and humanity is to be expected from such a prestigious institution. It is what was promised to us by this university. 

  1. Mutual Trust and Responsibility

If we are indeed meant to represent Sciences Po even outside of class at all times, the university should represent us at all times as well. It is unjust to expect us to take responsibility for Sciences Po’s public image when Sciences Po washes its hands of our well-being even in the most drastic cases. As the administration has been very prompt multiple times in the past to comment on student behaviour outside of campus in the case of disputes about parties, we would have expected similarly prompt action when students have been wronged. Duties have to be linked to rights. It seems that, as students of Sciences Po, we only have duties.

  1. Pedagogical Failures 

In the admin’s own words, the mission of the Sciences Po Le Havre administration is mainly pedagogical. Why, then, do many of us feel so abjectly let down regarding this? Grades are not returned for long stretches of time, course organisation is rushed and teachers who are clearly not engaged in their courses return year after year. Countless complaints and pleas have been sent to the administration, only to be ignored or brushed aside, or to be told that we should resolve things privately with the professors. When concerns regarding the academic workload were brought up in person by multiple students, we were told that “you are Sciences Po students. You have to take it as it is”. When requests for a wider selection of relevant courses were brought up, we were told by Mme Droszewski that she did not want the shame of telling professors their classes were unwanted. These issues have questioned the quality of learning that we get out of the university. We are paying, many of us full price, to study at an institution where we were promised a strong support network and it is clear that we do not have that. We deserve to take high quality courses fitting our chosen majors. The lack of sociology courses for EcoSoc and political philosophy in PolHum are regrettable – especially since, as Mme Droszewski has espoused herself, the important part of this journey is not what is on our diploma, but what we learn along the way. It should not take an enraged, school-wide assembly for our academic grievances to be seriously taken into account, and for measures to be taken accordingly. 

  1. Lack of Medical Support

Reiterated many times over the course of this letter and this semester and of utmost importance to us is the lack of support for our physical and mental health. While we do not expect the administration to act as our parents, patching up every scrape and tumble, we do expect the organisation and provision of adequate health services. Why do some students’ requests for appointments with the GP go unanswered? Why is there such a lack of flexibility when students are sick, considering the difficulty to obtain proof of illness from a GP who is on campus merely a few times a week? Why does our psychologist speak broken English at most, being unable to adequately communicate with much of our student body? More specifically, the administration’s expectations of attendance in class is a crucial talking point. In mitigating the spread of COVID-19 on campus, the administration’s attempts to create a safe environment are, to say the least, commendable. However, in the face of non-COVID medical emergencies faced by students, the administration has shown little more than apathy and disregard to the difficult situation some of our classmates have found themselves in. Students with serious medical conditions and injuries have been forced to attend class and remain in Le Havre for exams with little regard for the both the physical and mental risk involved. At other points, they have been made to feel as if their physical health has, in some way, inconvenienced the administration and the smooth functioning of the semester, especially around the exam season. Other students have been refused the option to go home for treatment entirely. In such precarious international health conditions, students have been denied the right to return home and take care of loved ones or have had to show proof of death certificates in order to see a deceased relative. The only advice given to students in this situation was: “you’re not going to validate this semester, take the year off.” 

This is unfair, knowing that other members of the academic community have the right to prioritise their health while we are not given such options. As a result of the lack of helpfulness from the admin and campus team, at least 3 international students have dropped out of Sciences Po in the first semester this year. 

To see such valid concerns go unanswered, especially while we are still in the midst of a global pandemic is shocking. Of course, we have our three Health Ambassadors—students themselves—on campus who have been valuable in communicating information about COVID, and lending a hand on a personal level where they can. While going above and beyond in their positions as our peers and as our Health Ambassadors, they should not have to be responsible for the health of all the students on our campus – they are not our parents either. Is this not a pattern we see with all of the aforementioned administrative faults? Health Ambassadors themselves are students first and foremost. More generally, to offload emotional and physical labor onto students who are not professionals further harms their wellbeing. 

Especially regarding the more sensitive and severe health situations, prompt and empathetic responses are essential on the part of the administration. 

  1. Lack of Support for International Students

The lack of medical support is only exacerbated when it comes to the international students, who make up at least half of the student population in Le Havre. International students who are completely unfamiliar with the intricacies of French society often have little prior grasp of the language and culture. The health systems, civil bureaucracy, CROUS, banks, phone cards – these are all alien to us, many of whom are leaving home for the very first time. We do not know where to reach out for medical emergencies, cannot properly communicate in the local language while many locals do not speak English. We understand that coming to Sciences Po also entails a degree of cultural understanding but to spring this upon international students, most of whom are A1 speakers without any adequate support immediately is unfair. This is why we view the administration as particularly vital in providing key resources and their support as we settle in. As students themselves, the BDE, Year Reps or any other person or unpaid student-led body can not, and should not have to, give us the kind of help we need. While their role is central to a vibrant student life, the support we are asking for is fundamental and should be provided for by the school throughout our time in Le Havre. Above this, the support we require goes beyond administrative tasks. We demand psychological support and avenues through which international students can voice concerns about safety, discrimination, etc. Already away from our families, support systems, and homes, and arriving in Le Havre under the pretence that we were going to be in an ‘international community’ the lack of presence and assurance from the administration leaves us isolated and vulnerable. 

All of these issues have caused accumulating stress and frustration for students, but we , as a collective, have reached our breaking point. This time, the issue involved was not simply academic, but concerned the endangerment of the life of one of our peers. This tells us, the students, that the administration will not only dismiss our academic troubles, but will also abandon us when we are physically, mentally, and emotionally the most vulnerable.

OUR DEMANDS:

  1. Administrative recognition of wrongdoing and formal justification for their actions

Written on the Sciences Po missions webpage is that we are an institution providing an education that “promotes responsibility.” To have this assertively stated, and then have a student’s account of an incident that has shaken them, one which the administration absolutely has the power to assist and lend an empathetic ear to, be dismissed by Mme. Drosezewski on grounds of this being an institution whose focus is “primarily pedagogical” and thus that they have no need to provide support, shows a deep disconnect. This is a student who reached out to [their] school after an attack at a residence recommended by the school. [They] sought support, and assistance as a person unfamiliar with the French language and system. [Their] experience was treated as a trivial matter, and [they] furthermore was told that at least [they were] not dead. How are we to learn about responsibility from people who refuse to take responsibility? For these reasons, we ask that if, and only if Mme Droszewski sincerely regrets her actions and sees their wrong, that she issue a personal apology to [X] and [their] family, if she has not already. We also ask for the formal recognition of the incident as a way for students to regain a degree of trust, and the assurance that their lives and safety will not be treated as minor impediments. It is what we would demand for any student, if they were to be so personally mistreated by the administration after a traumatic experience.

  1. Transparency, Accountability and Support for Future Incidents 

For incidents where a students’ well-being has been jeopardized, whether it is as a result of their own actions or of others, the student body must be informed as soon as possible, given the victim’s consent. In cases of robberies, assault or sexual assault, the administration must be particularly vigilant to transmit information about these events. We want to stress the importance of this especially when these attacks happen in places where students are known to live or spend their time, such as CROUS residences. The failure of relaying such information can put students at grave risks and make them prone to suffer similar outcomes, while potentially stoking panic and the spread of rumors. The administration thus bears a responsibility for ensuring the diffusion of objective facts, to prevent similar incidents from being repeated over and over. 

Case in point: CROUS security has been a cause of worry for students multiple times. Unfortunately when contacted, CROUS is slow to answer, sometimes completely ignoring the correspondence. We request that the administration, with their connections to the CROUS office, help streamline our most severe worries, such as that of safety, so that we may feel safe in our homes. 

We also demand an individual in charge of answering calls made to emergency numbers during the week-end. Incidents such as this one are thankfully rare, but when they do occur, students should be able to contact the administration as soon as possible and be met with a rapid and adequate response, which was not the case this time. We do not believe that the occurrence of such events are on a daily, or even weekly basis, such that the emergency number would constantly be in use. We just want to be assured that we have a responsible adult that we can turn to in incidents of such a serious nature, and not be left to deal with these problems alone.

  1. Create a position within the administration for international students 

Currently within the administration there is no specialized assistance for Anglophone students on this campus. Though the BDE, and the French peers are happy to help, international students’ cannot rely solely on them. What we need is a person from the administration who can effectively engage with us, and who is able to address the specific obstacles non-French students face during their time in France.

We see schools, whether they are small private colleges or sprawling public universities  with entire offices dedicated solely to addressing the affairs of international students. As a school that is considered to be elite, and that prides itself on its multiculturalism, Sciences Po Le Havre, should also have a team dedicated to handling the realities of international students. This, to us, seems like a reasonable request. 

We understand that the administration may be overwhelmed, understaffed, and overworked, however we believe these are vital issues to be brought up with the central administration for the good of administrative staff and students alike.

  1. Address Academic Shortcomings 

It is unacceptable that having certain teachers can mean the difference between scraping by with a pass and achieving near-perfect marks. We ask that there be further standardisation, transparency, control, and clarity in the assignments and grading in all subjects. Additionally, while some teachers will respond to emails in moments, others will leave them in their inboxes for weeks. We ask that there be improved communication, especially considering email is the only way to reach many teachers, with most living outside Le Havre and the lack of an official and regular office hours period to ask any questions in person. 

Student input is also not taken into account and is in fact ignored frequently in regards to either the teachers teaching the courses, or the courses themselves. As mentioned before, the lack of sociology courses in the Economics and Sociology major, or minimal political philosophy in the Political Humanities, have been raised with no action taken on the part of the administration. Furthermore, there are specific teachers that have received multiple generations of complaints from older students who continue to teach with no changes in their style. We ask that attention be paid to the voices of the students in this matter as the primary role of this institution is, as mentioned by the administration, pedagogy.

Finally, in regards to scheduling: Winter workshop dates were not finalized until mere weeks ago, differing from the dates we had initially been given. This is unacceptable considering the number of students who have had to either postpone purchasing flights back home, paying higher prices, or missing the rare opportunity to participate in the workshops. With many of the students being international students, better organisation and/or accommodation is paramount. We ask that in the future,  communication of pedagogical dates happens early and swiftly, or with some form of flexibility.

FURTHER STUDENT ACTION: 

Our demands have been nothing beyond what a student body rightly deserves and what a university does and should provide. We do not mean to mock or trivialise the efforts of the administration, but only convey our grievances and see actual change for the better. As the student body, we wish to outline certain actions we are ready to take in pursuit of the improvements we demand, not as any provocative warning, but as an expression of the seriousness of our grievances and our solidarity to see a change.

  1. Make the administration in Paris aware of this undergraduate level lack of systematic support and procedures. Due to said lack of support procedures and infrastructure to treat all undergraduate campuses as full campuses of Sciences Po, we deem it necessary to involve the Paris campus and student unions in this discourse. These are long-term structural changes to improve the current situation, rather than procrastinative short term actions. Student organisations and unions have already shown support for this cause and hope to receive a positive response from the Paris Campus. In case that is not the case, the student body deems it necessary for these issues to be given attention. 
  1. Extend this cause to other Sciences Po undergraduate campuses

Members of other campuses have empathized with our grievances and the overall situation in Sciences Po undergraduate campuses. We have received messages conveying their astonishment regarding the response to events that have taken place recently. Spreading this cause to other campuses and making a collective call will be an important step if appropriate action is not taken.

As the student community, we believe it be our solemn duty to take action to improve standards of well being, safety and overall education in the university, something that will benefit the institution as a whole in its growth. We all want what is best for the students of this institution and have suggested certain acts which we vehemently believe will have a positive effect towards achieving the underlined goals. No one here expects an overnight solution to the problem, but it is important to adequately listen, process and acknowledge it. We demand a proper dialogue and guarantee that it directly addresses the issues at hand, rather than maneuvering around it and beating around the bush. We stand here expecting a constructive and progressive response from the administration of this campus, and we believe that it is the least we can ask for.

In anticipation of a better, safer and healthier Sciences Po,

The Sciences Po Le Havre student body.”

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