We need to be Seen and Heard - BLM @UU Creating Change

black lives matter @UU creating change

A Talk about Black Lives Matter

The third public event in the BLM@UU Creating Change series organised by the Centre for Global challenges together with the Gender and Diversity Hub, and moderated by Jamila Mascat of the Graduate Gender Programme, invited 8 students and alumni to discuss how and to what extend racism has affected their student life. In addition, the event invited the panelists to reflect on how the issue of racism at Utrecht University might be addressed, and what both the university, professors and students can do to create change.

One important aspect discussed was the racial issues the panellists have faced in their life as students. Many issues were raised such as, the lack of both students and professors of colour at the university. The racism experienced both in and outside of the classroom, which can range from unintentional details like confusing two students of colour, or more direct stereotyping and jokes at the expenses of students. Lastly, the panellist raised the issue of finding a place to belong in student associations. Since, these often are less diverse it is harder to feel at home in them.

However, while the panelist raised many issues they also suggested several solutions which could be considered by the university moving forward. One major point was hiring more professors of colour. The opportunity for students of colour to see professors that look like them can be both inspiring, and allow them to realize that this career path is open to them.

What was also raised was the need to have an institution, which will listen to and address issues around racism. Knowing that there is support and that a racist incident addressed will be taken seriously, might be central in enabling students of colour to speak up. During the event, one of the two Confidential Advisors on Inappropriate Behaviour was present and listening. Confidential advisor Marian Joseph shared in the chat that her task and that of her colleague Frank Peeters, is to support any student or employee who encounters inappropriate behaviour, including discrimination and racism. And that, there is a complaints procedure which can lead to sanctions.

In connection with this, the university should aim to provide both material and legislative support to students of colour to enable initiatives and actions from the students themselves. As mentioned by the panel, an essential part of agency is being aware of where to start and realizing that there are resources and support to create an initiative. Not everyone knows, for instance, about the Stimulation fund Diversity and Inclusion. Lastly, the panel delved into issues around the curriculum and how professors might attempt to make their courses more diverse. One option might be to include global literature. Furthermore, courses should also reconsider how they read their current literature, for example by juxtaposing the literature to gain a more nuanced picture of the theories it presents.

Overall, the event raised an important voice when discussing racism at the university, the voice of students.