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Aline-Priscillia and Ruşen nominated for an ECHO Award

Working towards a more inclusive and diverse society, next to your studies. Humanities students Aline-Priscillia Messi and Ruşen Koç devote a considerable amount of hours to this every week. Now they have been nominated for an ECHO Award.

The ECHO Awards are awards for exceptional talents with a migration background from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Turkey in higher education, who have a unique approach in promoting diversity and inclusion within their area of expertise. Both Dutch and international students can be nominated. Aline-Priscillia and Ruşen compete in the WO (higher education, ed.) category. 



Aline-Priscillia has been nominated for her work for Space to Talk About Race (STAR) and the Humanities Student Advisory Board for Diversity and Inclusion. ‘We are an intersectional feminist network where students can talk freely about “racial experiences” and exclusion, while strengthening their mutual connections. I take care of parts of the project management side, which includes event logistics. At the moment, I am mainly focusing on recruitment and establishing external partnerships, so that we can embed STAR in the student population. 

When my professor emailed me that she wanted to nominate me for the ECHO Award, I was surprised and honoured. ECHO is cool because it is a community. As a nominee, you automatically become part of the ECHO ambassador network. It is nice to talk to people who also want to make a change. The first time, we shared our personal stories, but also discussed a quote by Audre Lorde about how the master's tools cannot dismantle the master's house and how that relates to the work we want to do.’

Mentor and podcast

‘One of my biggest struggles was navigating the academic world and getting my foot in the door, while being a woman of colour. The main reason I am able to start a PhD track in New York in January, right after finishing my bachelor, is that several women have taken the time to mentor me and helped me develop my skills. I would like to find a way to pass on that mentoring role. I would also like start a podcast project that would serve as a meeting place for women of colour. It would focus on conversations about topics such as: What does it mean to be a child of the diaspora? How do you relate to different backgrounds and the alienation you might experience? But first, I want to pass STAR on to people who are as passionate about it as I am, before I leave for New York.’  

Ruşen Koç

Ruşen has been nominated by educational development staff member Annebeth Simonsz, whom he met through the Honours College. ‘It came as a big surprise that she nominated me, because she had seen my foundation Onderwijsadvies Ouder & Kind (educational advice parent and child, ed.), OOK, on LinkedIn. It's really great that she picked up on that so proactively. In my last year of primary school, it was recommended that I entered the vmbo-kader (pre-vocational secondary education, ed.) track. I never agreed with that, but in order to challenge a recommendation you need support from your environment. I was unlucky that there was no such structure. When I took my Citotoets (primary school assessment test, ed.) and got havo (senior general secondary education, ed.) level results, I was allowed to enter the vmbo-t track, the highest level of vmbo, but for years after that, nobody believed that I could really enter the havo track, even though I got high grades. And if my mother spoke up for me, she was not taken seriously. In the end, I had to obtain a vmbo degree, havo degree and a hbo (higher professional education, ed.) first-year diploma before going to university. I still get worked up about that, because now I am in the loan system, for example, which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been delayed. 

Moreover, I noticed that parents around me started asking for advice once I was at university. These were mainly people from migrant backgrounds, especially Muslims, but also people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This is how I found out that the current generation is struggling with the same problems as I was.

Motivating mothers

That is why I set up OOK. Later my two good friends, Tim Driessen and Susan Janssen, joined the board. Where most initiatives focus on children, for example with coaching, we focus on the parents. Nobody can motivate me like my mother can. If she had known what she could have done to improve my educational career, she would have done so and her help would have been more effective. That is why we pair students with a relevant cultural background and study with parents and teachers. They discuss with parents how to better support their child. This can consist of very basic things like “Discuss the future with your child this week”. In this way, we try to ensure that children are given more opportunities. 

It is nice to be nominated for an ECHO Award. It offers an opportunity to interact with people that are also active in the field of social issues. In addition, it is a beautiful recognition, because social work is demanding. It doesn’t make you rich, not me anyway. That’s okay, but it does mean that I need an additional job as fieldwork coordinator at Labyrinth Onderzoek en Adviesbureau in Utrecht. This causes an immense pressure that nobody sees. A nomination like this is a nice boost.

‘I changed this’

In the future I hope to stay a down-to-earth and righteous person, who does not get distracted from the goal to help people forward. My goal is that everything that I do adds to that. This means that I will keep devoting myself to socio-economical weak neighbourhoods, but also that I will say something about it when I notice that it is easier to get through the bureaucracy at the university when you are bold. I find that really unacceptable, because it puts shy students at a disadvantage. Ultimately, I hope to bring about big changes, from cities to villages, because the latter are often forgotten. It won’t be easy, but hopefully I can look back in twenty years and say: “I changed this”.’

Out of twenty nominees, six finalists made the shortlist. Ruşen Koç is one of them. In December, he will hear whether he has won the ECHO Award.

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