“What can be achieved by acknowledging the link between diversity and success? A lot, I believe. Leiden University has a slogan: Discover the world in Leiden. If we want to be 100 % inclusive, we have to be aware of differences and we also need to discover the world inside of us. There's a lot to learn about others and ourselves. We all grew up in different families, cultures, social structures and contexts and that makes each of us a specialist in how we deal with the world around us. However, we become challenged when confronted with different views and opinions, habits and behaviours. Truly understanding the meaning of diversity is acknowledging the fact that every human being is unique, and has a unique perspective. Creating space with respect and openness for these different perspectives gives us a broader view of our own world and how we can do things differently. Working with diversity issues on a daily basis widens my world and keeps my mind sharp. We still have a long way ahead of us, but our goal is clear: a university that is truly diverse and inclusive. If we can shine with our unique self, there is no limit to what we can achieve.”
“Only last week, one of my students spoke in class on how migration had affected him and his family. Afterwards, he admitted that he felt uneasy revealing so much about himself, in a large class full of students, most of whom did not have a background in migration. He simply didn’t want to bother them with his personal stories. I talked to another student, who is working on her thesis on LGBT issues. She told me: ‘I really want to express my personal commitment to this issue, but I was always told that teachers simply don’t care what I think or feel.’ These are good examples of what keeps us from being inclusive. How can students fully understand the personal effects of migration when classes are too large to share emotions? How can a talented student with personal experiences of the fluidity of gender and sexuality learn to contribute to gender theory if we forbid her to explore and share her valuable experience and reflect on it? If you don’t bring your own experiences into your research, how can you ever contribute, how can you ever gain any theoretical depth?”
“We are determined to look critically at these issues, and at the same time look forward. Fortunately, so much is already changing. We have been working on diversity for three years now. I’m extremely proud of the Let’s Talk sessions led by Aminata Cairo: sessions in which people can talk freely about their personal life stories, gender issues, the effects of migration and discrimination, in a safe environment. Aminata creates the opportunity to really talk and share personal stories. I’m also proud of our LGBT community at the
university. By raising the rainbow flag on Coming Out Day, we want to tell the LGBT community that personal feelings and insights are celebrated as indispensable input for academic work. We fully support faculties in their efforts to be more inclusive and applaud the faculties that have done so much work in this field already, for example the Science Faculty, that raised its percentage of female professors considerably, and the Law Faculty, that allows external experts to analyse its selection procedure. That takes courage.
The next few years will be about caring about what our students and colleagues feel and think. The new period will be about caring deeply. We will move from managing diversity to engaging with diversity. Engaging means listening, sharing and understanding.”
“When my son went to art school, he told me: ‘Guess what - we’re skipping African art, we’re skipping Asian art. We’re only doing Western European art.’ I realised that this is about which story is valid, and which story is not. When it comes to diversity, it’s not only about whether or not there are Asian, African or Arab students present. It’s about whose story is being told, whose story is being validated. If you are only telling one particular story, the whole class is denied the full history. Everybody in that class is told: this story is valid; the others, they are not that valid. What happens is - we create inequality. And it becomes normalised. It becomes acceptable, because we don’t question it. We are taught what is normal, and what is not.
We have to remind ourselves of our conditioning. The dominant stories have become our standard. We have to fight our conditioning every day. There are valid stories everywhere, a wealth of stories that weave us together as a community. But we may need to make an effort to connect with those that may seem so different from our own. And we need safe spaces to share those stories, and to speak up, if we feel overlooked.”
The Diversity Office offers these safe spaces, in the Let’s Talk sessions. During these talks, a Leiden University community member shares his or her personal story with the group, which is then followed by a discussion.
‘The making of an inclusive Leiden University: Do’s and Don’ts’ is a digital publication of Leiden University Diversity Office produced by magazine-on-the-spot.nl.
Read Leiden University’s dossier on diversity.
Design & lay-out:
Kim Chang Pan Huo, Robin Ouwerkerk
Julie de Graaf, Kim Chang Pan Huo
Bas Schrier, Cinemaffia
Discover the world at Leiden University