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Sounding Board on Diversity Policy urges University to be more inclusive

Leiden University is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of diversity and inclusiveness, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. This is the key message from the first annual report of the Sounding Board on Diversity Policy, presented to Vice-Rector Hester Bijl on 15 February.

The Sounding Board on Diversity Policy was set up in December 2015 to give feedback on the diversity policy of Leiden University’s Diversity Office. The Sounding Board is made up of sixteen students and young alumni, all volunteers, who work to critically monitor and improve the visibility of diversity and the diversity policy. The Sounding Board Group is also a secure environment where the members can share their experiences, with the aim of using these experiences in the short or long term as the basis for actions or policies.

Critical but constructive

The Sounding Board on Diversity Policy maintains close relations with the  Diversity Office, but is expressly not part of it. ‘We give critical but constructive comments on the diversity policy,’ Jasper Bitter explains. Bitter works for SEA/SSS and – partly in his free time – is also coordinator of the Sounding Board, together with Parisa Elah-Madadzadeh. He is proud of the first annual report: in a short space of time all the goals of the group have been achieved. ‘One of the members, Lesage Munyemana, was a speaker at the opening of the academic year. He talked about refugee students and the importance of the Meeting Point as a support for them,’ says Bitter. ‘We’ve also made a dual language flyer about diversity that includes many of the initiatives that are already up and running within the University, ranging from the POPcorner at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and the Fenestra Disability Center to LU Pride and all kinds of discussion groups.’ 

Seeking balance

The Sounding Board is very positive about a number of developments within the University and is pleased with the role of the Diversity Officer. ‘But the theme could be more at the forefront of people’s minds,’ Bitter continues. The members concluded that there are big differences in how the faculties handle diversity. ‘It’s a sensitive subject,’ Bitter agrees. ‘Inclusiveness means not putting people into categories, but as soon as we start setting policies, we talk about ‘the bicultural student’, ‘the LHTBQ student’ or ‘the student with a functional disability’.  And then there’s the risk you will forget particular groups of students.’ Looking for the right balance has therefore been an important issue for the Sounding Board Group.  

From words to actions

The presentation of the annual report of the Sounding Board on Diversity Policy on 15 February, when the first copy was presented to Vice-Rector Hester Bijl, was also intended to focus attention on the subject of diversity and how it is handled. The members of the Sounding Board hope that their advice and recommendations will help the University community to turn words into actions. Bitter: ‘It’s now clear that diversity and inclusiveness are themes that the University can’t ignore. It’s time for the policy to deliver results.’

The complete annual report of the Sounding Board on Diversity can be read online. If you are curious about the initiatives within Leiden University on inclusiveness and diversity, you can read the flyer ‘The diverse university’ or take a  look at the dossier on diversity. If you would like to share your experiences or ideas on the theme of diversity, you are welcome to come along to one of the Let’s Talk meetings, or get in touch with the Sounding Board on Diversity Policy (klankbordgroepdiversiteit@leidenuniv.nl). The Sounding Board is looking for new members. If you have demonstrable affinity with diversity, please send a mail to the Sounding Board to apply. 

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