Universities proclaim to want diversity; So why don’t they succeed?
A Panel Discussion Organized by LUDEN - Leiden University Diversity and Equality Network
LUDEN / Casual Leiden
For this meeting LUDEN and Casual Leiden invited Edrienna from the student association STAR/ASA? and Miko Flohr, University Lecturer and the MENA student association to discuss the ways in which these different networks can work together to improve current work and study circumstances within Leiden University.
Casual Leiden’s aim to raise more awareness about the lack of permanent contract and unsafe work and study environment within the university. These meetings serve as occasion to come together in a space outside of the institutional organisation.
LUDEN, Leiden Universities Diversity and Equality Network, has sought to make more concrete proposals such as introducing principals of transparency, broadening the pool of applicants and/or implementing measures of quantitative assessment for a more inclusive agenda within the university. At the moment, the university is operating in an increasingly international environment, but this does not align with inclusive practices within the University.
STAR, Space to talk about race, STAR joined the discussion to shed light on challenges students encounter within the university. What is first brought up is how a lot of students find it difficult to feel safe to share experiences of unsafety. This is further complicated by the bureaucracy involved when trying to report any cases of misconduct or unsafety. Within this process there is a general feeling that there is a lack of accountability and restorative justice practices in the face of discrimination and harm. Furthermore, students with care tasks or who have to work next to their studies to provide for their basic necessities find it sometimes difficult to actively participate in their studies. Decentring money in the university’s day to day practices might relieve some of this pressure. Inclusive practices that could be implemented are for example the use of more free and accessible study material, instead of using the latest and therefore also more expensive options for study material.
Miko Flohr, University Lecturer in Ancient History, wrote an article on diversity and implicit bias or ‘implicit whiteness of ideology’ within Academia and the importance of representation for students and scholars navigating these inherently biased structures. Miko adds to the discussion that the university could benefit from more accessible education and a change in models of excellence. Institutional change starts hereby at the micro level.
During the discussion a few points are elaborated on. Transparency is mentioned multiple times as of one of the biggest pitfalls in university policy at the moment. Processes such as the appointments of new UD’s and UHD’s are unclear to the general university community. Furthermore, there is an acknowledgement of the general shortcomings regarding the use of metrics. However, there is a lack of clear reports and evidence regarding diversity and inclusion within the university. Right now it seems that both sides, the universities executive board and policy makers, as well as the community pushing for change within the university are lacking the instruments to deal with issues such as discrimination, exclusion and structural overwork within the university. The process of change is a slow one.
Another point that is brought up by the student network is how hyper focussing on certain perspectives can become a double edged sword. It can work counterproductive in making other people, for example, feel ashamed of being white or having a Dutch background. Conversations need to be centred around what students need to be successful, and then look at what ethnicity has to do with it. If the focus is solely centred around racism, we lose sight of all these other oppressive structures.
Right now it seems that only the social sciences within the university try to work from the general understanding that inclusivity is something that is an integral part of interactions, this needs to be integrated in other disciplines and spaces as well.
An overarching question that is brought up in the discussion is how to strengthen the current university community which is a fractured one.
And lastly, the networks are invited by the universities policy advisor on Internationalisation, Diversity and Inclusion to not only cooperate with the Diversity Office, at a central level, but also look for allies at the faculty level, this would make our efforts more impactful. She stresses: ‘Nothing about us without us is something we should embody in our policy- making’.
Resources mentioned during the discussion
- Report by MENA association on On Islamophobia in the Netherlands and Europe: https://www.menathehague.com/post/islamophobia
- Blog by Miko Flohr: https://www.mikoflohr.org/blog/2021/09/19/being-indo-dutch-becoming-a-classical-scholar/
- Books by Sara Ahmed