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Paul Wouters on what the Black Lives Matter-movement means for Social and Behavioural Sciences

George Floyd's death still leads to fierce protests against police violence and racism on a daily basis in the United States and abroad. We asked Paul Wouters how he experiences these developments and what this will mean for our faculty.

What is your reaction to the protests against racism in the Netherlands and abroad?

The murder of George Floyd and the demonstrations against racism put me back more than 50 years. I was 16 years old when Martin Luther King was murdered. I was standing on the sidewalk in Amsterdam-Noord when a demonstration against that murder came along. A year earlier I had seen an interview on TV (which we had just received) with a black man who had been castrated by the Klu Klux Klan. That had shocked me deeply. It was the first time that I really thoroughly realized how unjust the world was. I had never demonstrated before and I found it quite strange to get off the sidewalk and start shouting in the middle of the street. But I didn't think I could stay on the sideline. It was my first political act, which strongly determined the further course of my life. So today's wave of protests touch me personally and I am very happy with the diversity and massiveness of the demonstrations.

What can we expect in the coming period with regard to the implementation of policy on diversity and inclusiveness in our faculty?

We have three priorities:

  1. Awareness. The debate on institutional racism in the Netherlands, which by the way has different forms than in the US and is strongly coloured by the colonial history of the Netherlands, is already a form of societal change. It points to mechanisms in which people who do not want to be racist still exclude others on the basis of race.
  2. Reform of the work and study culture at the university and of the way in which we recruit and hire staff. There are all kinds of forms of exclusion in our daily lives, partly based on the traditions of Leiden University. So we need to redefine the values of the university. The university must become more inclusive. The POPcorner we started 10 years ago, together with our student members of boards and associations, is also very active in this.
  3. Decolonization of the curriculum. Here I think we can learn a lot from our colleagues from the Faculty of Humanities. Do we really use the intellectual resources of all regions and cultures in the world in our teaching materials? Do we give our students the best information about the globalized world we live in today?

Today's protests show that the younger generations no longer accept racism in any form. This is a big step towards a better world. Colonial thinking is now really being buried.

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