Around ten per cent of the Dutch student population have some form of functional disability, varying from ADHD or dyslexia to a physical handicap. Under a UN treaty, the Netherlands is committed to providing better facilities for these students. What kind of support does Leiden University offer this group of students? For example, are all our lecture halls accessible for wheelchairs? What kind of support is there if a student is seriously dyslexic?
The Fenestra Disability Centre at Leiden University provides support for students who need a helping hand. There are many different ways of organising such support: an assistant to guide blind students to their exam room; a study adviser to help a student make a study plan. Law student Jiska Stad-Ogier is reliant on a wheelchair: “We have to increase awareness together, think about it together. Ask yourself: What does the other person need and how can I help? Or, if I can’t help, who can? That way, we can make Leiden University inclusive for everyone.”
On 30 September 2016, Leiden University organised a conference on Studying with a Disability, for students, staff and societal organisations, which will be followed up with another conference on 20 April 2017.
This spring, Leiden University’s portrait gallery of famous professors - 117 men and 1 woman - made room for portraits of female professors only. For a month, visitors to the Senate Chamber were welcome to view photos of present-day female professors. The photo project ‘Room for Women!’ was the initiative of Athena’s Angels: Leiden professors Eveline Crone, Naomi Ellemers, Judi Mesman and Ineke Sluiter. “Of course the university showcases its famous and celebrated professors. It’s unfortunate, however, that nearly all of them are men. Although that’s not too much of a surprise: in those days, women were not even granted access to universities,” Judi Mesman explains. “Athena’s Angels strive for equality for women in academia and believe it is high time to make room for women, both literally and figuratively. What better place to start than at our own university?”
Leiden University aims to be an open community in which anyone who wishes to contribute feels at home and enjoys equal opportunities. This includes gender expression. The university wants to create welcoming and inclusive spaces, such as toilet facilities that are physically accessible and open to everybody. Transgender people can also feel at ease using these places. “Gender neutral” spaces like these are an important way of expressing full welcome and inclusion.
On 11 October 2016, Leiden University celebrated International Coming Out Day, an international civic awareness day, when people celebrate individuals who publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian or transgender. Leiden University aims to be an open community in which anyone who wishes to contribute feels at home and enjoys equal opportunities. At our university, students, researchers and staff can be who they want to be. We work hard to safeguard this freedom.
Leiden University is also a member of the Workplace Pride Platform, which aims for greater acceptance for homosexual, bisexual and transgender people at work. The university happily supports its Leiden University Pride: a network of LGBTI students, staff and alumni, and the LUMC Pride.
Leiden University collaborates with Erasmus University Rotterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to share and develop the best practices to improve the study success of our bicultural students, to be true to our mission to educate and support and inspire all our students.
We also established a national network in which diversity officers and policy makers from all universities can discuss the best ways for all of us to become truly inclusive institutions.
As a source of exchange, innovation and creativity, cultural diversity is as necessary for humankind as biodiversity is for nature, according to the UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity. However, full acceptance of other people isn’t yet commonplace, and not everyone can feel comfortable with their own cultural background or gender in all environments.
The Leiden Sounding Board Group on Diversity is a group of 18 Leiden students and alumni, whose main purpose is to provide advice on diversity and inclusiveness so that our university can become an inclusive community where everyone can develop their talents to the utmost, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, cultural background, sexual orientation or functional disability.
Ever since 2000, ECHO has celebrated the achievements of diversity in the Dutch community by presenting the ECHO Award to students with a non-Western background. Students considered for the award have accomplished outstanding achievements and have shown their commitment by doing valuable community work. ECHO’s aim with this award is to draw positive attention to the individual achievements of Dutch students from a multicultural background. Winners of the award receive a summer course at UCLA, the University of California Los Angeles.
Leiden University is proud of Salima el Mansouri, student at the Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs and one of the 2016 ECHO Award finalists. Salima has been youth ambassador for the community of The Hague and voluntary worker at Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, an organisation that supports refugees. “Being able to help others means so much to me. I am convinced that everyone should have all kinds of opportunities in life, and that everyone has a right to receive help if they need it. The more I was able to help others, the more energy it gave me.”
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