4x working on inclusion

New Urban

COC Leiden and
A.S.V. Gay

Islamic student
association SABR

Support refugee

‘Whenever we study racism, we look at examples from the US, not from Europe’

Two school photos, both of a young black boy amidst a class of white children. One taken at primary and the other at secondary school. The photos belong to Mitchel Esajas, chairman of New Urban Collective and facilitator of the workshop. At some point in his youth Mitchel became aware of the fact that he was the only black dot in a sea of white dots and asked himself: “Why? Am I such a genius?” This awareness always stayed with him and was his inspiration for starting New Urban Collective, an organisation of students and young professionals that aims to empower young people from diverse backgrounds, and that works with racial diversity in a positive way.

In the workshop Mitchel and his colleague Jessy asked the participants how racism manifests itself in their education. Shockingly, the participants were easily able to give them loads of examples:

  • “In my very first class in political science, the lecturer asked: Why are governments of non-Western countries so backward?”
  • “When you suggest a topic for your research that is related to the Orient, the tutors say it's too exotic.”
  • “Not only the students, but also the majority of the lecturers are white.”
  • “Non-Western perspectives are often denied. We’re in an academic environment and I am supposed to receive criticism and feedback. But when I myself, identifying as an orthodox muslim, am critical of something, people are quick to call me biased or angry.”
  • “Whenever we study racism, we look at examples from the US, not from Europe.”

Next, the participants discussed various ideas on how to make a positive change:

  • “I have an idea, but it’s radical… Let’s burn all Eurocentric books!”
  • “We could start naming and shaming famous philosophers, such as Voltaire and Kant, who said such awful things about Africans.”
  • “Yes, we could start a meme, with a picture of a philosopher and an awful quote.”
  • “We should send more Dutch people abroad.”

'There could be an international LGBTQ student association in Leiden'

Even though over the course of recent decades the position of lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders and queers in the Netherlands has improved a lot, LGBTQ social and advocacy organisations still have their work cut out.

To kick off the workshop Tom Hendriks from Amsterdam student association A.S.V. Gay and Youri Hagemann from gay rights organisation COC Leiden talked briefly about their organisations. After the presentations, the participants broke out into in small groups to discuss propositions such as:

  • Is LGBTQ emancipation complete?
  • To what extent is discrimination, including implicit discrimination, in student life harmful?
  • Does Leiden have the potential to start an LGBTQ student association like A.S.V Gay?

Immediately the sounds of hushed but intense conversations filled the room as the participants, mostly students from different backgrounds and cultures, shared their personal experiences and points of view.

A local gay student association

All the international students participating in the workshop were very positive about the acceptance of the LGBTQ community in Leiden. In the words of a French exchange student: “For us it’s perfect here; nothing could be better.” A Dutch student noted that there might not be a need for a gay student association in Leiden, because there is already a lot of acceptance for LGBTQs within the existing student associations. However, someone else commented that these associations are not really accessible for international students. “A smaller gay student association in Leiden could potentially be a great place for international students from the LGBTQ community.”


Leiden University Pride is a network of LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex) students, employees and alumni of Leiden University.


'Challenging implicit bias goes well when you have to depend on each other'

Implicit associations occur outside your conscious awareness or control. You may not even know you have particular biases for them to influence your behaviour. Zohra Makhkash and Siham Ammal of the Islamic student association SABR gave a workshop about challenging implicit bias. “Please, get out your smartphone and surf to www.onderhuids.nl/test-jezelf (in Dutch).”

Implicit information

Makhkash and Ammal talked about raising awareness of the consequences of implicit associations and stereotypes. Before they invited the participants to take the test on implicit bias about ethnicity, Makhkash and Ammal elaborated on the kinds of implicit and explicit information we all receive in our daily lives. Because certain concepts and topics are often presented together (e.g. girls and pink, muslims and terrorists, African Americans and guns), those associations get stuck in our minds.  “You are more likely to think positive about people belonging to your own group, ethnicity or religion, than about people belonging to other groups.” Makhkash and Ammal explained. “But under the influence of perpetual imagery from the outer world, you can even develop a negative implicit bias about yourself.” They showed a clip from the “White doll, black doll” test where black children consider a black doll ‘ugly’ and ‘bad’, and a white doll ‘pretty’ and ‘good’.

How to challenge your bias

Thankfully, there are ways to challenge your implicit bias. You can try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, for example. Or seek out people from other groups and get to know them better. Challenging implicit bias goes particularly well when you’re in a situation where you have to depend on each other. Amman: “When I studied at the University of Applied Sciences in Leiden, we were given a lot of group assignments. It would be useful if teachers at Leiden University were to encourage more group assignments and other forms of collaboration between students.”

'There is no better integration into society than through education'

Lesage Munyemana studies Biology at Leiden University. He studies with the help of UAF, The Foundation for Refugee Students that supports and counsels highly skilled refugees.

“It is hard for any refugee fleeing his motherland to settle in a new country, let alone for someone who is ambitious and needs to familiarise himself with a new educational system and a new language. I remember the day, four years ago, when I was accepted by UAF. It was one of the happiest days of my life. With their help I learned Dutch. After six months I was able to follow a lecture at the university and now I’m a third year student.”

More applications for UAF

“With so many refugees coming to the Netherlands, UAF will receive more and more applications from talented people who want to finish their education. To help more people, they will need more money. On behalf of all refugee students I would like to call on you to help support UAF. It is a very important cause, because there's no better integration into society than through education.”

UAF is an independent organisation. Go to www.uaf.nl for more information or to make a donation.

During the evening of the symposium students and other interested people participated in workshops.

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