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Diversity and inclusion: ‘Don’t avoid the subject'

The new online diversity and inclusion dossier combines all faculty initiatives on this topic. But what is the situation on diversity and inclusion at Humanities? An interview with Aurelie van ‘t Slot, policy advisor Internationalisation, Diversity and Inclusion.

Aurelie van 't Slot

First of all, why are diversity and inclusion so important to the university?

'I recently came across an image that represented it well. You could see different ladders, which all led to the same goal, in this case graduation. But if you have highly educated parents, or if they financially contribute to your studies, you might start halfway up the ladder, while other students start at the bottom. In addition, the road to the top is complicated by implicit bias or forms of exclusion, making it more difficult to succeed. We also notice this at our faculty. Attracting a diverse student and staff population does not work when they have to climb a broken ladder. Our policy is aimed at repairing this “ladder”. This means offering targeted support, but also structurally embedding diversity and inclusion in policy and processes.'

This has been your position since January 2021. What has happened in that first year?

'My position had not been actively filled since 2019, so there was no policy development for a year and a half. At the same time, there was a university plan stating the D&I infrastructure needed to be improved. Whereas before 2019 a lot of activities centred around the D&I Expertise Office, the current intention is for faculties to work on it more themselves, to better meet the specific wishes and needs of a given faculty.

Therefore, I first made an inventory of the initiatives that were already in place. I asked: What is going well? What is no longer necessary? What new activities can be developed? The results were incorporated into a work plan that the faculty has been implementing since May. In cooperation with the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs, the POPcorner in The Hague will be opened, where students can participate in skills training and social activities in their city. We are discussing ways to make the recruitment of students and staff more inclusive. We launched the JEDI Fund, which provides financial support to projects and initiatives that promote an inclusive learning environment.’

What’s in store for the coming period?

'We often notice there is a lack of data, which makes is difficult to measure the impact of our activities. That is why we intend to conduct a survey among students and staff as a kind of baseline measurement inspired by a model that has proven successful at other humanities faculties in the Netherlands and abroad. We won’t be asking about personal and background information, but about perceptions of values such as equal treatment, inclusion and a safe learning and working environment.

We are also starting D&I training for staff members. The training for inclusive education is still in development, but course offerings about, among other things, implicit bias and discrimination have already started. Everyone can participate and the response thus far has been positive, especially because the Faculty Board deliberately decided not to make the training courses mandatory. Diversity and inclusion is not a theme that you can simply impose on departments and institutes, it should also be developed bottom-up.'

How do you facilitate this bottom-up development of initiatives?

‘"Nothing about us, without us" is a statement often used by D&I advocates. That is, for example, why we have two advisory groups: one for students and one for staff. They have been around since 2019 but have started regularly meeting again this academic year. Their input is very valuable, because they hold me, each other and their respective departments and institutes accountable.’

What can staff members themselves do in the area of diversity and inclusion?

‘Do not avoid the subject. People often find it confrontational or uncomfortable to start a conversation and I also experience this. Sometimes different forms of diversity exclude each other, or certain language used yesterday is unacceptable today. It helps to see it as a learning process. Start a dialogue without immediately turning it into a debate. Especially those in managerial positions play an important role in facilitating this learning process.’

Take a look at the new diversity and inclusion dossier here.

Mirjam de Baar, Vice Dean of the Faculty, portfolio holder for education, and responsible for the diversity policy:

‘In terms of the composition of our staff and student influx, the Faculty of Humanities is a truly international faculty. But this does not mean that we are necessarily in practice a diverse and inclusive community. As Faculty Board, we are therefore delighted with Aurelie van ’t Slot’s diligent work on the Diversity and Inclusion Work Plan. The work plan has received many positive responses, not only from the Faculty Council, but also from our Societal Advisory Council. 

As the Faculty Board, we want our faculty to be a socially safe environment for all our students and staff. One of our ambitions, articulated in our new Faculty Strategy Plan, is to promote an inclusive, accessible and supportive work and learning environment. This means that in the coming years, we plan to put more effort into developing an inclusive recruitment and selection policy where attention will be paid to underrepresented groups. The development of inclusive and intercultural education also warrants further attention. In some study programmes, lecturers are already working with great zeal towards achieving this goal. In the coming years, we will make more funds available to this end via the JEDI Fund and educational innovation projects.

Creating a truly inclusive community is something that touches us all, students and staff alike. I would like to invite everyone to join us in thinking how we can make our faculty and teaching more diverse. The Advisory Groups offer the ideal platform for talking about this.’ 

For questions, comments and ideas, please contact Aurelie van 't Slot at divers-inclusief@hum.leidenuniv.nl. 

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