Dutch vocational students' experiences in relation to safety and identity negotiation in the context of their educational institute.
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This thesis examines how students in a Dutch vocational secondary educational institute experience (un)safety, and how this relates to the (conscious or unconscious) act of showing and/or hiding (non)normative aspects of their identities (i.e., identity negotiation). In order to understand the results of this study, (theories on) the dense and relative concepts of safety, safe spaces and identity are unpacked in the context of educational institutes. With the aim to answer the main research question and sub-questions, qualitative research was conducted at STC Group. STC Group is an educational company within the logistics, technology and maritime sectors offering programmes on a wide range of educational ‘levels’. Ethnographic research was conducted amongst various types of employees of the organisation, in-class discussions were held with seven classes, and in-depth interviews were conducted with 12 vocational students at STC. During the research, it became apparent that an image of the ideal STC student is implicitly and explicitly expressed by (people within) the school. The ideal student would, according to this polished image, be male, cisgender, white, able-bodied and heterosexual. This mirrors the normative western patriarchal idea of an ideal student, which is highly criticized from a feminist perspective, since the (institutional) norms lead to injustice for those who cannot meet the standards. In analysing the 12 interviews with students, it furthermore became apparent that the students in this Dutch professional secondary educational institute tend to state they feel (physically) safe, while their other remarks suggest that parts of their educational environments contribute to (perhaps subtle) feelings of (social-emotional) unsafety. This implies that the unsafety, discrimination and expectations regarding ‘normative’ behaviour are internalized to the extent that students seem to accept and adopt discriminatory behaviour and beliefs. As a result, - especially marginalised – individuals negotiate their identities and adjust their behaviour and looks (unconsciously) aiming to fit in, meaning some identity aspects are invigorated/accentuated, and some identity aspects are hidden/watered-down. This thesis forms a basis for future research on vocational students’ perceptions of safety and identity negotiation in educational settings, by making vocational students’ voices be heard, aiming to increase safety and encourage identity visibility in educational institutes.