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How can we become a more inclusive university?

Inspiration from outside and best practices from inside the University. These were the most important ingredients of the symposium on inclusivity organised by the Diversity Office at Leiden University on 22 November.

The theme of the symposium was How inclusion makes diversity work. How can be become an inclusive universty where everyone will feel at home and can develop their talents to the full? Speakers from outside the University  shared their approach with the attendees. 


Hester Bijl, Vice-Rector Magnificus, opened the symposium and called on all those present to make their contribution: 'I hope that the programme will inspire you and motivate each of you to take steps to see that our University becomes more inclusive.' She mentioned the #metoo discussion and urged anyone who has been affected by this kind of problem to report it to the confidential counsellor.

Estela Mara Bensimon

Tips from America

One of the keynote speakers was Professor Estela Mara Bensimon from the American USC Rossier School of Education, where she is head of the Center of Urban Education. The center carries out research on promoting equal opportunities in education. 'If you want to be inclusive, you have to be aware not only of what you say, but also how you are heard,' she told the audience. 

Bensimon's tips:

  • If you want researchers/lecturers to change their approach, you have to use research to persuade them. 
  • Appeal to their professionalism: they want to give their students the best possible education.
  • Give lecturers and other staff the tools to really see the effects of their own conduct on students. 
  • Look at figures on the throughput of students from different types of backgrounds (and be specific in this). 
  • Observe the lectures carefully (which students never ask questions?) 
  • Check the teaching material: what image does the syllabus convey? 
  • The most important instrument is filling vacancies with the right candidate. 
Peter Slort

Tips from the police

The second keynote speaker was Peter Slort, portfolioholder for Diversity and head of the Power of Difference project with the National Police Corps. In his speech he made no attempt to avoid  such incidents as the death of Mitch Henriquez and the problems surrounding the arrival of Sinterklaas in Dokkum. 'The world is changing, the Netherlands is changing, and the police also have to change - as do universities.'

Slort's tips:

  • Let each department make its own plans, but make sure that everyone bases their plans on the same vision and foundation.
  • The Divesity Office should provide advice and facilities. 
  • When filling vacancies, don't emphasise a quota but particular expertise that you want to bring in.
  • Develop a separate talent programme for good people who are at risk of dropping out to develop the required competences. 
  • Communicate intensively and frequently and be clear about your core values and your approach so that everyone can learn from them. 

Best practices

A panel of deans responded to video messages from students and staff about inclusiveness. They mentioned all kinds of best practices taking place in the faculties, such as the growth of the women's network RISE at the Science Faculty and a successful conference for PhD candidates where good contacts were initiated with Governance and Global Affairs.

Vice-Rector Hester Bijl launched the women's network Sophia

Women's network

The new women's network Sophia was launched during the symposium. The network is named after Professor Sophia Antoniadis (1895 – 1972), whose portrait hangs in the Senate Chamber. The aim of the network is to collect the comments, opinions and complaints of women at the University and to ensure that these are heard. 

The winners of the Van Bergen Prize, with the jury; Joris van Bergen is second from right.

Van Bergen Prize

The presentation of the Sophia logo by Vice-Rector Hester Bijl was followed by the award of the Van Bergen Prize. This prize is awarded every year by the Van Bergen Fund to the best plan for improving relations between Dutch and international students. Of the twelve ideas put forward, the jury chose the plan devised by Sarah Alford, Mart Lubben, Friso Postma and Eveline Kantor: the Sustainable Business Battle Leiden & The Hague.

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