"The recurrent theme is that inclusion has become more important. Although we’re also still working on diversity, we’ve increased our focus on making sure that our people feel at home and receive the support they need. That perspective is key. If you make sure that part is in order, greater diversity will follow," says Carlos Reijnen, Faculty Diversity Officer at the Faculty of Humanities (FGw). Carlos Reijnen, Letje Lips, Sanne Klaver and Mona Hegazy are the FGw’s contact persons for diversity and inclusion. In this interview with the Chief Diversity Office team, they tell us more about how they work to promote diversity and inclusion at the faculty.
Among other things, diversity and inclusion are about accessibility. This starts with the student intake. Letje: "We have also increased the number of Master’s tracks in which you can enrol with a pre-Master’s degree from 12 to 43. To achieve greater diversity, we want to increase transfers from higher professional education, which tends to have a more diverse student body. This way, we hope to reach more students from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. We also provide additional support to help make the transition from higher professional education to university education a smooth one."
While the inclusion and diversity team still considers it important to make the FGw’s student body and staff more diverse, it wants to focus mainly on inclusion in the coming period. Inclusion is about the extent to which students feel at home, safe and supported. To find out more about student wishes and needs, the team conducted a faculty-wide survey on diversity and inclusion in the autumn of 2020. Carlos: "The survey marked the launch of the new strategy. We had postponed it due to the coronavirus, because it contained questions about bonding and feeling connected. Conducting such a survey while students and staff are sitting at home affects the results. In the end, we went through with it anyway, with good results." The survey showed the diversity of the FGw’s student body and provided useful starting points for further steps. The focus on well-being and psychological problems is one of those steps.
Letje: "Of the 1,245 students who completed the survey, more than half have a disability or psychological problems." Sanne: "These include developmental disabilities such as AD(H)D, chronic illnesses and psychological problems. The largest group with mental health problems suffers from anxiety, depression, burnout or has such high stress levels that it affects their well-being. These students have certain expectations from the faculty when it comes to support. The inclusion and diversity team is therefore sounding the alarm: the university must invest in appropriate student support that matches the expectations and problems of the current generation of students. The university must also communicate clearly which types of support students can expect from us and what the limits are of student support at the UvA and the Faculty of Humanities."
Because the survey highlighted a need for a low-threshold point of contact for questions about social safety, diversity and inclusion, the team appointed a number of inclusion ambassadors. Mona: "The inclusion ambassadors are currently a small group of three employees and two students. We want to keep it accessible; you can come to us with all kinds of questions. We listen, try to give advice and refer to other services where necessary. We do not act as study advisers or confidants."
Structural inequality is a given. I want to tackle the institutional mechanisms which seem neutral but are not. I never think “It’s just the way it is" but rather "Why can't it change?"Letje Lips
The team is also working on diversity and inclusion among staff, an area in which it has many ambitions. Letje: "What you see is that diversity and inclusion is being addressed in more and more layers of the organisation: within research, HRM, communication and at the degree programme level." Carlos: "We can’t do everything ourselves. In terms of education, we already do a lot, like screening degree programmes and training courses to make them more inclusive. Next, we want to scale up to research, using the results of the survey to start discussions. In all areas, we need people who can stir things up. This is a cry for help, although we’re already doing enough to create a ripple effect in other areas."
The four are extremely passionate about working on diversity and inclusion, each for their own reasons. Letje: "I have a deep sense of my own privilege, having two educated parents. Not everyone is that fortunate. Structural inequality is a given. I want to tackle the institutional mechanisms, which seem neutral but are not. I always think of the opposite of “it’s just the way it is”. Why can’t it change?"Carlos: "I’m in it to improve the university. The university should be a reflection of society." Sanne and Mona feel involved in the subject because of their own background. Sanne: "I'm a first-generation student myself and I took the long route to university, via senior general secondary education and higher professional education. For me, it's not only about visible diversity, but also in terms of socio-economic and cultural background." Mona: "My own background means that I’ve often seen how things should not be done. People don’t always do so on purpose, but they don’t take being different into account. If you don’t feel safe, you won't be able to get the best out of yourself. We want students to grow and develop and the best way to do that is to make them feel safe." And it is precisely the ambition to make everyone feel safe and at home that is the common thread when it comes to working on diversity and inclusion at the Faculty of Humanities.
For more information about the activities of the FGw’s inclusion and diversity team and the results of the survey conducted among students, visit the Website on Diversity and inclusion at the Faculty of Humanities.