Honours Class on inequality: 'Focus on the big issues’
At the end of December, the concluding lecture of the Bachelor Honours Class 'Policy and Politics: struggling to combat social inequalities' took place. Students, under the guidance of former minister Jet Bussemaker, tackled the question of what inequality actually is. "You can't avoid it when you look at society."
Over the past few weeks, students have been challenged to reflect on different forms of inequality. Various political and social actors were addressed. Students studied how these relate to each other, and how to find common ground between people with different views. They also reflected on their own position in society.
Each week revolved around a different aspect of inequality. In this way, students learn to look at the full picture. According to History student Suzanne van Spijker, this was the programme’s forte. "You can't avoid it when you look at society, because social structures overlap," she explains. "As a government, you can devise policies, but things can still turn out very differently in practice." For example, excuses for slavery can only be effective if they are made in a particular way, as is argued in this article.
As a final assignment, the students conduct their own research on inequality. In groups, they have chosen their own topic, ranging from healthcare to multilingual education. Because of the different fields of study and backgrounds of the group members, everyone looks at the issue from a different angle. "I have become much more nuanced," says Political Science student Emily Demandt.
The most challenging part turns out to be narrowing down the scope of the research. Time and resources are often too limited for big ambitions. "I encourage you all to focus on the big questions," Bussemaker explains to her group. "But we have to make it small again for research."
Emily learned a lot from participating in the course. "I knew inequality exists, but I misjudged how big it is," she explains. "It is often misunderstood." In the Netherlands, for example, people sometimes think the LGBTI+ community does not encounter problems anymore. However, the lectures showed that this assumption is evidently wrong. The fact that the subject was taught by a former minister was an added bonus for Emily. "I am obsessed with Dutch politics, so it was amazing that Jet Bussemaker shared her own experiences."
Students do not feel that they now fully understand inequality. According to participant Sander de Bruin, this is not possible within such a relatively short period of time. However, the course did help him see the versatility of inequality. "Inequality occurs in many different ways," he says. "But it also has a lot of common ground." Emily concurs. "You can always learn more about it, but awareness is especially important. Because then, you can start doing something about it."
Text: Robin Buijs
Photos: Buro JP