Column by the Diversity Officer
Thank you so much, everyone!
Five years ago, the diversity and inclusion policy was launched. Isn’t it incredible? At that time, I was the first and only Diversity Officer in the Dutch academic landscape. You don’t want to know how many jokes were made about that unusual, military-sounding title: Diversity Officer! But everything was unusual. How do you design a completely new policy out of thin air? A policy that by definition will be at odds with some aspects of the organisational structure, and aims quite recklessly at cultural change? It’s a good thing I wasn’t a policy maker. I had no idea how it should be, and that can be very useful.
But it was, of course, at least as useful to work closely with colleagues who did indeed have experience in policy making. And to be supported and inspired by the then Vice-Rector, who had initiated the policy, and by the Vice-Rector who succeeded her, and by the Rector and many other allies in the Netherlands and abroad. You didn’t always notice the existence of a diversity policy, because a lot of time went into work behind the scenes: meetings, preparations, advice, support. In a way, I regret not having been a flashy Diversity Officer in a superhero outfit, who could instantly and spectacularly take all the necessary practical actions. Wham!!
But the invisibe work paid off and I’m incredibly pleased with the fundamental changes that have started to happen. You can read more about them in the magazine Why Community is Key. The discussion on racism, in which people are now widely engaged, thanks to some brave staff members and students with a migration background, shows just how much the organisation is in transition. But the fact that it is still the people who commit themselves to change, like these students, who encounter the most problems because of their courage, shows that there is still a long way to go.
After five years, I am leaving office. You will soon be introduced to a new Diversity Officer. Together with my excellent colleagues in the Diversity Office, I thank you all for your great commitment, and for the many tasks that you have accomplished on so many fronts. Please continue. We will continue as well, but in other ways.
See you later, then! And a great 2019 to you all,
Isabel Hoving, November 2018
Here at the Diversity Office we read quite some newspapers, and we’re on Twitter and other social media as well. Altogether, what we see and read there isn’t very uplifting: #MeToo, Trump, climate, Jemen, Brazil… In face of all that violence and all that polarisation we tend to feel powerless. For you, it probably isn’t very different. But where a human being may feel powerless, a university cannot afford it. After all, it is up to us to train those who will soon be jointly responsible for all future developments.
These days we sometimes think: from all the things we teach our students about these developments only one really matters: polarisation solves absolutely nothing. What does bring us closer to a solution is the opposite of polarisation. Listening to others. Sharing experiences. Being a community. Because we are far from being that. And there is no better way to educate our students than to teach them how to do that, becoming an inclusive community. In order to make that happen we as a university should want to be a diverse, inclusive community. Vibrant, full of discussions and debate. Determined to challenge exclusion, nepotism and intimidation. Above all: being open and curious about those who do not look like you.
Newspapers and Twitter don’t cheer us up, but all the initiatives at out university aimed at forming a community do. Yes, the annual diversity symposium/ conference is coming up, and of course the title is Why Community is Key. The workshop teaches you how to deal with challenging dialogues, and how to show inclusive leadership. And fifty staff members will start the new year with a daylong workshop about the way in which ethnic diversity of staff members can be increased. That is uplifting news!
Isabel Hoving, September 2018
Welcome back, everyone! The opening of the academic year on 3 September left us in no doubt that diversity and inclusiveness will be important themes in the coming year. Rector Carel Stolker raised the problem of work pressure, and added that pressure of work can also be the result of an unpleasant, tough working environment, intimidation and a culture of anxiety. We’re not immune to that, he recognised, and so we have to take a serious and focused look at shaping an inclusive working environment.
This is going to be the theme of our diversity symposium on 13 November. How can we make our institutes, departments and services truly inclusive communities? One thing is clear: we have to talk openly about the effects of how we treat one another – and particularly how we interact with those who have less power and influence. That’s something we are going to be working on. In the autumn you can take part in the fantastic workshop called the Active Bystander: what can you do if you witness undesirable behaviour, whether it is sexually oriented, racial or some other form? The workshop is part of a broad offensive against intimidation and unacceptable behaviour initiated by the National Network of Women Professors. Bear the dates in mind.
What I am also happy about is the advent of several new staff and student networks. A new LHBT+ interest network will soon be launched, a group of students of colour managed to get a good subsidy to form a network (STAR), and soon you will be able to read about other new student and staff networks on our website.
Isabel Hoving, March 2018
It’s a great question, thank you for asking it, but I’m sorry, it’s almost impossible to answer. After more than four years we can at least say that we truly have made quite a lot of progress. So much that we couldn’t even name it all. Just consider: on February 8, the Dies Natalis, it was fifty years ago that Leiden students started the LGBT movement in Leiden, and the Academy Building proudly flew the rainbow flag. Soon after, the Diversity Office consulted with bicultural students on their great new plans to make the university more inclusive. Our mailboxes are overflowing with requests for training courses, advice, support, and wonderful suggestions. We were happy to read a lively discussion in the university media on the question of what diversity and inclusion are actually about. March 8, International Women’s Day, is around the corner, with a great programme. But, yes, the question remains: are we making progress? Are you, students and staff, already seeing any results?
This Newsletter is a way of keeping you posted. And do check out our new Facebook page! But it is true, we are not yet seeing enough change. So what do we need to do, then? More noise, more events? Yes, please; we are happy to contribute (see below). But that, for us, is not the main point. We are not primarily concerned with opinions and debate. Our pursuit of a more inclusive university is in the first place concerned with experiences. And the question that really bothers us is: can all experiences actually be heard to the same extent? We are enthusiastic about the different new networks and communities that are being formed among staff and students at our university. They allow people to share experiences that could not be heard before, and it is these experiences that will help us to become truly inclusive. We are delighted that the Sophia women’s network was launched last year, and we look forward to the networks that will follow, and the very welcome new contributions they will make.
So that’s my answer to the impossible question. Yes, diversity and inclusion are going well, even though they are not always immediately visible or audible. But they are here to stay. If you want to hear more about what’s happening, if you want to be part of the conversation, join the networks, or visit the activities, or mail us with your plans. That will surely help things go even better!