Symposium on Measuring Racial Representation in Dutch Universities


On 24 June 2024, the Special Interest Group Digital Migration is organising the symposium Measuring Racial Diversity in the University, at Utrecht University. This symposium is open to all Dutch university staff, students, and policy makers.


10.00Doors open
10.15Welcome and introduction by Dr Gerwin van Schie and Dr Anastasia Hacopian
10.20Keynote address by Dr Anya Topolski, Radboud University

Presentation session 1: Interdisciplinarity and Dutch Discourses on Race

  • C.Y. Edwina Wong, "Am I the racist? Navigating the Minefield of Researching Race and Racism in the Netherlands"
  • Anastasia Hacopian, "Disciplines in Deadlock? An Interdisciplinary Approach to Race"
  • TBA
14.00Presentation session 2: Data, Categorizations, and Law
  • Helen Tibboel, "Monitoring Cultural Background at Erasmus University Rotterdam"
  • Deniz Rana Kuseyri, "Expanding the Boundaries of Measuring Racial Diversity"
  • Gerwin van Schie, "Dutch Discourses on Datafication and Race: Reflections on the 'Barometer Culturele Diversiteit'"
15.45Roundtable with expert panel:
17.00Closing Remarks by Dr Gerwin van Schie and Dr Anastasia Hacopian


On September 1st, 2020, the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, presented the new “National Action Plan for More Diversity and Inclusion.” One of the explicit goals of this plan is to monitor diversity, social safety, and inclusion in a more effective and structural way in Dutch higher education institutes (see DIHOO 2020). Measuring diversity in general, and racial diversity in particular, is, however, fraught with cultural, ethical, methodological, and epistemological issues. This became painfully clear in recent attempts to measure racial diversity at several Dutch universities that were ended prematurely as a result of public outcry from a variety of political perspectives (see Hacopian 2023; Van Schie 2023).

Lack of concensus

This debate has revealed a trans- and multidisciplinary lack of consensus on a definition of race and the potentially constructive categories with which to quantify racial identities among the Dutch population. Conservative arguments against affirmative action initiatives often focus on how using words like race would not fit the Dutch social context. While such viewpoints can and have been read as a result of white innocence (Wekker 2016) and the mistaken belief in colour-blindness (see Essed and Hoving 2014), this standpoint has only recently been repeated in an official working document by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (see Jennissen et al. 2018, p. 15).

More progressive arguments against the “Barometer Cultural Diversity” revolved around how specific racial epistemologies used in the Netherlands reify racial ontologies, such as words like “Western” and “Non-western” to distinguish between different clusters of migration backgrounds. Despite the availability of ample qualitative research on the Dutch university as a white and male-dominated space (Essed 1999, Wekker 2022), the results of such research are often unconsidered by neoliberal university bureaucracies.

Beyond theoretical discourse

The goal of this symposium is to move beyond theoretical discourse towards practical strategies to produce and communicate relevant knowledge about racial diversity in Dutch universities. Many of the current discussions on practical problems related to such knowledge production, often in the form of racial quantification and datafication, are held by legal experts and computer scientists. A critical, interdisciplinary approach would have much to offer to these debates. In this symposium, we would like to address the following questions:

  • Should race be quantified? Or should bureaucracies learn to incorporate qualitative, ethnographic, knowledge in their policies?
  • What are the merits and pitfalls of quantifying and datafying race? What is the role of a central governmental institute such as Statistics Netherlands in this process?
  • Which racial categories would be suitable for the Dutch context? What are their benefits and limitations? How do they interact and overlap with other important markers of difference such as ethnicity, nationality, and religion?
  • Which interesting and/or successful initiatives have produced useful knowledge about racial diversity at Dutch universities, faculties, or departments?
  • We are interested in both critical discussion pieces as well as successful experiences and experiments.

Start date and time
End date and time
Drift 21, room 0.05 (Sweelinckzaal)
Entrance fee

Registration form