Last weeks we have been focusing on the topic of Gender & Diversity. We posted articles, videos and on the 12th of May, we gathered online to talk more about this topic during the event ‘Inclusivity - talk & dialogue’. The evening started with an interview of Nagaré Willemsen, visual artist and co-founder and coordinator of the Black Student Union at the Sandberg Instituut and Gerrit Rietveld Academy. She talked about her efforts to create a more inclusive environment at these institutes. The black student union was created for students of colour who wanted to connect and put inclusion on the agenda. Through this union, Nagaré made efforts to plead for a more inclusive curriculum as the lived experiences of her and other students was not reflected in the curriculum. The message of inclusivity was picked up quickly by the Gerrit Rietveld Academy and the curriculum now also includes non-Eurocentric artists. After the black student union, also more student unions were created that invite students from different cultural backgrounds to connect.
Lisa Nguyen, project leader in diversity and inclusion at the WUR, explained the projects that are created at the WUR to foster inclusion. Among this is the One World Week, a yearly week of events in which diversity is celebrated. This year the focus was broader, not only looking at external characteristics such as race and gender, but also talking about inclusivity in terms of neurodiversity and other invisible characteristics of people. Unfortunately, the One World Week was cancelled this year due to the measures around the coronavirus. Lisa also elaborated on the several places and people students can go to when they experience discrimination or exclusion, such as the study advisors. Furthermore, she mentioned that the university is currently questioning its identity: are we a Dutch university with international students or are we an international university?
Yichun Zhou elaborated on the experiences of students which she learned about during her time as a chair of the S&I student council party. S&I organizes monthly gatherings where topics around inclusivity are discussed. Yichun talked about how students from some cultural backgrounds may not be too eager to speak up about incidents, as speaking up is not common in their culture. It poses a dilemma; how could we also reach out to these students? Also, international students often do not feel like the curriculum represents their interests, as case studies are usually based on the Netherlands.
We discussed several initiatives that are taken at the WUR and the Gerrit Rietveld Academia that foster inclusivity and how policies could be improved. For example, we talked about representation: are study advisors at the WUR reflecting the diversity of students? Is this necessary? When students want to talk to a study advisor to share feelings of being excluded or discriminated, it is good when study advisors are sensitive to these topics.
During the discussion, many interesting and important issues on inclusivity were raised. Students that participated in the dialogue spoke about the divide between international and Dutch students. One of the causes mentioned, was about different expectations of studying. Whereas many Dutch students are looking forward to joining a student association, international students hardly know about their existence. Some students feel excluded from the (predominantly) Dutch student associations in Wageningen, that make up a great deal of the Dutch student experience in Wageningen. The Dutch language is often a barrier for this. Another student commented that we should look at our differences as a way of being able to learn from each other and meet each other. Inclusivity does not mean toleration, but having genuine exchange of knowledge, skills and attitudes among different people from different backgrounds. At the end, the participants were asked what inclusivity means to them, and answers ranged from appreciating the beauty in diversity, to respecting each other, to inclusivity as a decolonial and just way of looking at humanity. What does inclusivity mean to you?
A link to the Black Student Union at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy can be found here:
This is a link to the internationalisation agenda of universities https://www.vsnu.nl/nl_NL/internationalisation-agenda
This is a link to the confidential advisors at the WUR, who you can speak to when you experience discrimination or exclusion: