Steering committee on slavery past and colonialism launched

The composition of the committee was announced on 5 July

The composition of the steering committee on slavery past and colonialism is announced. This took place during a morning programme on research at Utrecht University on slavery; on the university's own part and on contemporary effects of the slavery past. Researchers, students and people from the African-Caribbean community discussed the topic.

Composition of the steering committee

Chairing the steering committee on slavery history and colonialism is a duo position:

  • Joyce Sylvester, chair of the State Commission Against Discrimination and Racism and Academic Fellow of the faculty of Law, Economics and Governance;
  • James Kennedy, Professor of Modern Dutch History and University Professor with an assignment on community engaged learning.

Other members of the committee include:

  • Bruce Mutsvairo, professor of Media, politics and the global south;
  • Makeda Ferguson, master's student in Sustainable Business & Innovation and president of the African and Caribbean Heritage Network;
  • Henk van Rinsum, former staff member and author of the book on Utrecht University's colonial past, to be published in October;
  • Femke den Boer, director of Centre for Science and Culture;
  • Kai Bhawanibhiek, policy advisor Inclusion and diversity at UMC Utrecht.

Dialogue on slavery history

    Henk Kummeling, rector magnificus, stressed in his welcome speech on 5 July that Utrecht University feels a special responsibility for research and education on slavery history and colonialism. The steering committee will map out existing initiatives, encourage collaborations and set up new activities. The steering committee will also consider further steps and whether apologies are helpful and appropriate.

    In her personal story (pdf, 179 kb), Joyce Sylvester told of her path from child of Surinamese parents in the Netherlands to chair of the Water Authority Amstel, Gooi and Vecht and chair of the state committee against racism and discrimination.  Joyce Sylvester argued that Utrecht University needs to go through a process of decolonisation. It is important to look in the mirror here: self-analysis by academia is crucial. This is a collective process, in which critical reflection and co-creation are important. Every day is a challenge, which we will face together.

    Utrecht University researches the history of slavery in different ways. Led by Migaisa Poeketi, vice-president of Keti Koti Utrecht, those present discussed Utrecht's research and the impact of the slavery past, both within the university and beyond. The importance of research was underlined - partly as a basis for policy advice. At the same time, the stories of individual experts by experience are also indispensable. The meeting invited this.

    Bottlenecks that were mentioned were the lack of a complete research overview and the problems researchers may encounter in making their results public. Opportunities were also mentioned: being open to each other's experiences and cooperation with social partners and other universities in, for instance, the 'global south'. There should be more room in education for issues concerning the colonial past and its repercussions. 

    The dialogue was supported by music by Black Harmony and by poster presentations by academics and students on research questions, concerns and initiatives concerning this topic.

    Plans and future

    James Kennedy outlined the plans of the steering committee, which has been appointed until the summer of 2025: including the launch of the book University of Utrecht and colonial knowledge by Henk van Rinsum and the organisation of One Book One Campus where students and staff will read and discuss Anton de Kom's book We slaves of Suriname. In addition, the steering committee will give visibility to existing initiatives, establish collaborations and develop new programmes. Joyce Sylvester called on those present to bravely move forward and roll up their sleeves. Which she herself is looking forward to because, "ten kon drai, times have changed."

    For more information, visit the page Traces of slavery. Do you have any suggestions or comments? Mail to