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An inclusive university as a joint effort

Inclusive teaching and research, a good reflection of society and a safe and accessible learning and working environment. The new Diversity and Inclusion Work Plan has set the direction of University policy and aims to create a university where everyone feels respected and at home. Diversity Officer Aya Ezawa on the key steps to achieving this.

Over the past five years we have put the theme of diversity firmly on the map, says Diversity Officer Aya Ezawa. She has written the Diversity and Inclusion Work Plan, which was recently adopted by the Executive Board and will be implemented over the coming years. It has become much more self-evident that there should be gender balance at the top, and the number of female professors and administrators is increasing. The number of international lecturers and students is also growing rapidly at most faculties. Data on ethnic diversity, in particular on Dutch students and staff with a migration background, is not yet available.

Diverse but as yet not inclusive community

There are many more aspects to diversity: alongside gender, nationality and ethnicity, it also relates to sexual orientation, health, disabilities, religion, age, socioeconomic background and more. ‘A diverse community is not necessarily an inclusive community where everyone feels at home and can develop their talents to the full,’ Ezawa emphasises. The recent Black Lives Matter protests highlight the importance of tackling the structural causes of inequality and institutional racism in particular. Why is there so little ethnic diversity among lecturers? What should we as a university do differently to ensure equal opportunities for all?

Training and awareness

The plan lists various short-term goals and associated initiatives that have already begun. These initiatives will now be implemented on a larger scale. There will be more training on implicit bias, for example, including a training programme and information materials, which will begin in autumn 2020. All staff – administrators and managers in particular – will be able to follow training courses that help them develop more awareness of their own bias when recruiting staff and how to discuss the matter with others. Ezawa: ‘This begins with the job advertisement already. Inclusive leadership means that as a manager you know how a diverse team can enrich the discipline and give everyone the chance to develop to the full. It also means that you know how to broach sensitive topics with people. That creates a different picture of leadership and may also attract a wider group of candidates.’

For lecturers there will be courses on inclusive teaching, and for degree programmes a course on how teams can develop an inclusive curriculum. How do you create a classroom environment that works for everyone? What do we need to promote an inclusive curriculum that reflects diversity in society?

Institutional racism

An open climate where students and staff feel able to speak out and discuss sensitive topics is particularly important with racism attracting significant attention in the past months, in society at large as well as at universities. Ezawa is pleased that Vice-Rector Hester Bijl addressed the structural causes of racism in a recent interview and emphasised how a cultural shift is needed to combat everyday racism.

Joint responsibility

Like the Vice-Rector, Ezawa notes that an inclusive university is only possible if the entire organisation joins in. ‘It really has to become a shared responsibility: everyone has a role and is responsible for creating an inclusive learning and working environment.’ The faculties will therefore develop their own plans based on the central D&I Work Plan. This will begin with a stronger infrastructure. Diversity officers, focus groups and committees at the faculty and institute level will be able to put diversity and inclusion on the agenda and to monitor and promote these. Training courses, tools and advice from the D&I Expertise Office will make it possible to translate the ambitions from the University’s policy into everyday practice at the degree programme and institute level.

Many questions from degree programmes

Many institutes have indicated that they wish to be more inclusive and have already taken some form of action. Ezawa: ‘It is a topical issue. For example, because lecturers now have all sorts of questions about how to talk about Black Lives Matter with their colleagues and students. Some degree programmes are still in the preliminary stage: how to create more diversity among the student population and how to adjust the information material accordingly. That is why communication and marketing staff, for instance, will also be given inclusion training. The degree programmes also want to provide more support for students who feel less of a connection and experience more barriers. The ‘POPcorners’ are important points of contact that offer individual solutions and support to first-year students.

Accessible buildings

Another aspect is the accessibility of the buildings and facilities: more needs to be done to ensure these meet users’ needs. For example, they should be more accessible to students and staff with a disability. Ezawa: ‘It’s not always major building work like installing a lift. Sometimes something as simple as reducing the height of the cardholder for a printer can make a huge difference.’ Other goals of the plan include quiet rooms and at least one all-gender toilet per building. 

Corona crisis

To conclude, Ezawa notes that the corona crisis has increased inequality. Not all of us possess the equipment, network and study and work spaces needed to easily adapt to the new situation. The very same pandemic has a very different impact, depending on people’s personal situation. ‘Managers have an important role here: have you ensured that your colleagues have been able to do their work properly in these circumstances and how will you ensure that staff are not penalised because of their personal situation?’ Ezawa hopes that the D&I plan will be a toolkit that helps make the learning and working environment more inclusive. ‘The University emphatically wants to be an open community where everyone feels at home and enjoys equal opportunities. To reiterate: we will only achieve this if we all work together.’

Over the coming years, the Diversity Office will be transformed into the D&I Expertise Office, which will offer advice, guidelines and information, conduct research, monitor the situation, raise awareness and promote expertise. The Expertise Office will help the faculties, expertise centres, policy directorates and the University community achieve the goals of the University’s policy on diversity and inclusion.

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