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Dossier

Column by the Diversity Officer

Aya Ezawa, March 2020

There are few moments during which we can see our world with such clarity. At home, and restricted in movement due to COVID-19 measures, the things that divide and unite us become more visible. Crisis serves as a magnifying glass of society: it makes visible who carries the greatest risks when it comes to income, employment and health. It exposes differences in means – who has a laptop and space to work and study on their own, who has the buffer and means to bridge a crisis, who has access to information and a network of support, and not to forget who has good Wi-Fi– and who doesn’t. And there are those in essential service professions on our campus who continue their work on location despite the inherent risks. The same crisis does not affect us all equally. But making issues visible also provides an opportunity to make changes. Please reach out and share your questions and concerns.

Living in a world defined by social distancing also shows us what we miss. There is a difference between video-conferencing and an in-class debate or an intensive discussion or chat among colleagues, and between a heart emoji and a hug. The uncertainties, pressures, and restrictions to our daily lives also come with extra emotional strain. The real impact of weeks in social isolation is yet to come. Community and connection are more important than ever.

There are a number of initiatives in development which offer connection and support. Those in leadership positions at the university, faculty, institute and program level have taken conscious steps to communicate directly to their staff and students. And there are teams and taskforces developing new systems of support. Student Support Services has launched a “Listening phone” (071 527 1132 or studentsupport@leidenuniv.nl). Fenestra Disability Centre continues to support students with disabilities at a distance. The POPcorners of the Humanities, Social and Behavioural Sciences and Governance and Global Affairs faculties remain active and are exploring the possibility of offering their digitalised workshops university wide, and holding their upcoming workshops on study skills, time management and preparation for exams online. There is also information for international students and foreign travel and government information on national national measures in English. Extensive work is being done to support staff in preparing online teaching and meetings. It is also important to think about how to build resilience.

As Diversity Office we provide a space to share experiences and concerns in collaboration with our D&I networks and are working on ways to ensure accessibility and inclusivity for staff and students also at this moment. Please follow our Facebook page (which we will revive after a period of inaction) for upcoming (digital) events and meetings, and contact us with questions, initiatives, and suggestions: diversiteit@leidenuniv.nl.

Please take care and stay safe!

Aya Ezawa, March 2020

The outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) not only has a potential impact on our health, but also has wide-ranging social ramifications. Anti-Asian comments, jokes and slurs connected to the coronavirus, which have been reported in the Dutch news, are an indication of the persistence of anti-Asian racism in the Netherlands. Steps undertaken by individuals to protect themselves can also negatively affect others. When disinfectants and face masks are being hoarded, this can put people with (chronic) illnesses and disabilities who require them to maintain their health in immediate danger. Media coverage about coronavirus that ‘reassuringly’ states that the virus is primarily dangerous for people with pre-existing health conditions shows that they are seen as inferior.

What matters is not the intention: rather, we need to think about why the impact of such comments is overlooked, and the assumptions they build on. I am glad that on 17 March the LUC Diversity Committee will be hosting an Anti-Asian Racism Panel. Within out community we need to pay more attention to combating ableism: the discrimination, marginalisation and stigmatisation of people based on their physical, cognitive and/or mental condition.

The University is actively monitoring the situation and is updating the community daily about preventive measures that can be taken with regards to coronavirus. Diversity and inclusion are also relevant here. For those who are used to wearing a face mask in their home country, even in the case of a common cold, the recommendation not to wear face masks may feel unsafe. Where the virus is literally close to home, the less drastic precautions taken in the Netherlands may not feel strict enough. As in other situations of disaster and danger, what matters is not just the scientific judgment that guides the measures, but also our ability to trust the approach taken. This is a moment to reach out, ask questions and engage in an open conversation with each other about what is needed for all of us to feel safe. It is an opportunity to engage and recognise that our experiences of safety can vary, and also that differences can be overcome, together.

As you may know, the Diversity Office supports a number of networks (among them the recently launched Access & Support Network) that are dedicated to diversity and inclusion. They offer safe spaces to discuss shared experiences and concerns. With their events and activities, which are open to everyone, they contribute to a deeper understanding of what diversity and inclusion can mean. Please check out their (Facebook) websites for upcoming activities!

Aya Ezawa, December 2019

A safe and inclusive learning and working environment is fundamental to our ability to develop and perform to our potential. The curriculum plays a central role here: it is the context within which ideas are developed and debated. That’s why our annual Diversity Symposium on 22 January, which is hosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences this year, will focus specifically on how we all can contribute to a more inclusive learning environment.

What does an inclusive learning environment mean? Education is founded on the idea of meritocracy, and aims to provide equal opportunities to learn, develop and be judged according to the same standards. But sameness in assessment does not mean equity. Universities are historically elite institutions which have excluded women, racial and ethnic minorities, and those who could not afford higher education. This means that now that universities have become more diverse and aim to become a reflection of society, it is also necessary to critically examine the norms, values and standards with which we define ‘excellence’ and to think about what ‘inclusive excellence’ can mean. There are still gaps in performance and retention between students of different social backgrounds, which suggests that our curriculum and teaching serve some students better than others. What we need to achieve is a learning environment where students with a diversity of experiences and perspectives can thrive and reach their potential.

This year’s symposium will present several concrete ways to make our learning environment more inclusive. Frank Tuitt will introduce the concept of inclusive excellence and what this means for our teaching practice. Kamna Patel will discuss why an understanding of race needs to be central to making universities and our teaching more diverse and inclusive. The workshops in the afternoon programme will focus on implicit bias, racism, sexual violence and disability, and will aim to equip students, staff and administrators with knowledge and skills that will help them contribute to a more inclusive learning environment. Please join us for our annual symposium on 22 January!

Aya Ezawa, September 2019

On 9 October, we will celebrate the achievements of Isabel Hoving, the first Diversity Officer at Leiden University, and mark the transition to a new Diversity Officer and team. To mark the occasion, Professor Kalwant Bhopal (University of Birmingham) will give a lecture about the experiences of black and minority ethnic academics in higher education in the UK.

When Isabel was appointed as Diversity Officer five years ago, diversity was new territory. As the very first Diversity Officer, she was tasked with developing diversity policy from scratch. She introduced many initiatives ranging from an annual D&I symposium, a newsletter and website, training on implicit bias and the Active Bystander workshop to research and publications on diversity in teaching and student experiences, to name but a few. Today, diversity is taken much more for granted. Moreover, Leiden University has one of the highest percentages of female professors (28.8% in 2018 up from 16.3% in 2008) in the Netherlands, for which it received a Talent to the Top Diamond Award in 2017.

In the next phase of our diversity policy, the ethnic diversity of students and staff will become more important. The growth in teaching programmes in the last few years has meant that our students and staff have become more international and ethnically diverse. Professor Bhopal’s lecture will offer important insights into why ethnic minorities remain underrepresented at universities, as well as ways to make universities more inclusive.

Please join us on 9 October to thank Isabel and discuss how to move forward!

Aya Ezawa, June 2019

I have recently been appointed as the new Diversity Officer. I feel honoured to follow in the footsteps of Isabel Hoving, who became the first Diversity Officer at Leiden University in 2014, and devoted so much effort and passion to the role.

Over the past five years, the groundwork has been laid for making diversity and inclusion a central element of Leiden University. There is a central Diversity Policy Feedback Group (and, more recently, a feedback group at the Faculty of Humanities) which offers feedback and advice on diversity policy; there are diversity coordinators who help facilitate policy on the faculty level, and there are POPcorners in the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities which offer courses, consultation and community to students. There are also staff and student networks which organise events and workshops on issues and questions relating to race, gender and LGBT+ issues, and a number of training workshops have been held on topics such as how to be an active bystander and how to approach implicit bias.

What can you expect from the Diversity Office 2.0? Inclusiveness and community building will be an important topic over the coming period. Whereas diversity is about the presence of students and staff who come from a variety of backgrounds and have a broad range of perspectives, inclusion is about creating a learning and working environment which everyone can feel part of. It is about engaging with differences and building a university community where everyone can thrive.

We’ll keep you updated!

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

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!

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