The Chief Diversity Officer's Team blog was launched on 1 October. On the blog you will find articles by the team members about what they are up to. Also you will find interesting background material and an event calendar.
To announce the blog launch we will publish Anne de Graaf's first blogpost here. Would you like to read more? Please visit uvadiversity.blog.
I don’t really have an average week in my position as CDO, but last week what I did, for example, included giving a talk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Diplomacy and Diversity, attending the University Forum, and meeting to discuss bringing a big-name civil rights activist to the UvA for various events in the spring. But every week is different!
I’ve been doing this job for nearly a year, and there are many concrete initiatives already taking place. Bottom line: what’s changed? Just a few chosen milestones include the following:
In addition to the above list, there are many different things happening, but sometime they may be overlooked because of their scattered nature. If you have any questions about one or more of our initiatives, or if you have any ideas or suggestions, please do not hesitate to contact the CDO team!
To create structure for the academic year 2018-2019 we will focus on the following priorities:
Students and staff
You can find our full mission statement here. However, in order to truly achieve this a culture change needs to take place. To change a culture like the one at the UvA takes time. As the UVA community we are in the process of that change. We learn, but we could do much better. And that means being committed to goals like becoming more welcoming for a diverse student population and workforce, cultivating diversity literacy, embracing diversity of knowledges, and growing relationships with local communities. Some of these processes are already underway. Of the more than 30,000 students and 6,000 employees, many are working hard to create a better equity, inclusion, and diversity policy. It’s a long game, striving for sustainable rewiring of the biggest university in the country means top-down, bottom-up, and sideways initiatives all combining to create momentum as our norms and values shift and we come to realize our own implicit biases, and as we learn to listen to others’ stories and suggestions of how to make our university even more welcoming, fair, and enriched by different perspectives.
Diversity is a tricky concept and forty years into the movements to make salaries fairer, and working places and lecture halls more welcoming, we often still struggle with an us-and-them mentality. It’s only a small step to take a workshop on implicit bias or learn the latest definitions for describing a given community (although these are excellent starting steps). And the concept of diversity is so broad it covers gender, ethnic, special needs, socio-economic and many other often layered identities and areas of intersectionality.
The UvA is in a unique position because of major structural changes these last few years. We are experiencing what is termed in the human rights world as a window of opportunity. I took on this job 1 November 2017. The post of CDO comes out of the report on diversity, called “Let’s do diversity.” This report named the need for a CDO at the UvA, as part of a major shift in policy focus toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion at the UvA. We now also have a new CvB, new management heads such as Human Resources and Academic Affairs, and new deans at six of the seven faculties. This is enormously significant as it means I’m not knocking on closed doors, but that there is a recognition and willingness at the very highest level that change must take place. It is not a question of willingness, but more about when and how, as we are changing! It is a privilege to work with students and staff as we formulate proposals, create policy, and facilitate this shift toward understanding better how our community can become even more welcoming and equitable.
It’s a tough job, though. For some I’m moving too fast, as change is, by its nature, threatening. And for others I’m moving too slowly, as micro-aggressions and the pain of experiencing prejudice and ignorance cut deep. The diversity report provides a road map for what we do, we are tracking our progress according to the issues discussed in the report, as well as by other means, including identifying benchmarks and researching indicators. I am so very inspired by the efforts of students and staff. In my role as facilitator, I hear stories every week that vary from a new pregnancy leave policy at the FEB to a new course in Black Studies at FgW. As a lecturer in human rights and human security, as well as peacebuilding, and as a researcher in the field of peace and conflict studies, I am deeply committed to helping make the UvA more equitable, more welcoming, and more diverse. Diversity is one of those win-win things: it enriches us on all levels, academically, research-wise, and as individuals.
Since November there have been several media articles about me and diversity policy at the UvA. I’ve received mixed feedback. One interview in particular seemed to resonate with people from various backgrounds and it used the term safe space. Safe space can mean something different if it is contained in quotation marks, like “safe space,” which could refer to so-called safe space, as in politically correct and let’s not rock the boat by saying anything controversial. Safe space can also refer to a place where people don’t need to be wary of being othered or stereotyped or misunderstood because of their differences. Safe space can also mean a place where there is no fear. Words can have different meanings and when they are twisted out of context that can be dangerous. The term safer space is more nuanced than safe space, which is why we want to use the former. However, it’s also important to try and understand the background of fear and aggression and vulnerability that make a phrase like safe space such a source of controversy. In any case, I want to be clear that I am absolutely committed to making the UvA a place where all our students and staff can flourish, be respected, and develop to their full potential. I champion this cause.
- Anne de Graaf, Chief Diversity Officer