Student group sends advisory report on racism: ‘University needs to take ten more steps’
A safe space for non-white students, decolonisation of the curriculum and a large-scale study into racism. These are the recommendations made by an action group of students in a report on racism. The university responds ’with interest' and will meet with the students.
Last March, students and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office organised the Anti-Racism Awareness Week (ARA) to ask for more awareness on racism at the university. ‘After that, we wanted to make it clear what needs to change,’ says Nikita Krouwel, co-author of the report. ‘This report is the result of that.’ The authors are six students from Radboud University who were involved in the ARA.
The 24-page report, titled Advisory Report: Anti-racism Policy Radboud University, describes the forms of racism students have to deal with. According to the action group, the premise that every student at Radboud University is treated equally is not always evident.
They find that the numbers of students of colour at Radboud University are too low, in relation to the proportion of non-Western residents of Nijmegen and Arnhem. ‘That lack of diversity ensures that students with a non-Western background view the university as less open to ethnic and racial diversity. (…) Students of colour are under-represented at the university and are therefore structurally disadvantaged.’
The action group also notes that students of colour sometimes feel excluded and discriminated against. According to a study at Radboud University, carried out by students of the course Gender and Diversity: Policies and Practices, 57% of students of colour says they have had to deal with racism at the university. A total of 24 students were interviewed. ‘This demonstrates the need for implementing a targeted policy against racism’, the report claims.
The bulk of the report deals with the question of how the university should combat racism. Most remarkable is the call for a safe space for students of colour, a classroom that is accessible only to students with a migration background. According to the report, this would give them a place where they can be themselves without being looked down on because of their skin colour.
Safe spaces are a controversial subject. Critics fear that students will retreat into an echo chamber, as happens in America, where only ‘woke’ people are welcome. But Krouwel says that that isn’t the objective of the ‘safe spaces’.
‘We want to create a place where students of colour have the same experience that most white students do. A place where you can be sure you’re safe and where you can speak freely. The fact is that it’s not a self-evident thing on campus for students of colour. And bear in mind that there are many places on campus that are actually already exclusively white because there are no black students or lecturers.’
Ultimately, the students hope that the whole university will become a safe space, negating the need for a separate one.
Another fraught term in the report is ‘decolonisation’ of the university. The campaigners feel that study programmes are still too often based on a white, Eurocentric world image, resulting in non-Western perspectives being excluded. ‘This allows ideas of white or Western domination and privilege to be reinforced,’ the students write.
‘All change goes too slowly. Racism is a stubborn problem’
Those putting together study programmes should therefore consider which sounds are lacking and think about why they teach something instead of what, according to the campaigners. Krouwel: ‘That’s not to say the white scientists should all disappear from the curriculum, but rather that there should be a focus on non-Western voices too.’
The students feel that the medical, science and law faculties in particular need to do their best to modify the curriculum. Krouwel: ‘Those are faculties where as far as we’re concerned, there is the least consideration for these themes, even though there’s still a lot to be gained. The medical faculty, for example, still focuses too little on skin diseases in non-white people.’
The question is: exactly how big is the racism problem at the university? The students themselves use the student research of the Gender and Diversity course in the report but it is not representative. ‘It gives an indication of the problem but at the same time, you can’t draw conclusions with it,’ Krouwel admits.
For that reason, the students want the university to investigate racism at Radboud University. A shining example is Let’s do Diversity, a report on racism at the University of Amsterdam, in 2016. That was the starting point for a series of anti-racist measures, including the introduction of faculty diversity officers.
‘The ball is now in the university’s court’
The message of ‘Let’s do Diversity’ is one that Krouwel can agree with. She calls the student report an ‘urgent recommendation’. ‘In the three years I’ve been involved in this as a student, I’ve heard the university say great things, but I haven’t seen enough change. They’re taking one step when they need to take ten.’
The report is intended to be a wake-up call for the university. ‘The ball is now in the university’s court. It’s their turn to implement changes.’
On behalf of the Executive Board, spokesperson Martijn Gerritsen informs us that the report has been received ‘with interest’. ‘We appreciate the work the students are doing and are keen to talk to them about their findings.’
That interview will take place after the summer holiday – at the students’ request. Gerritsen: ‘We’re taking that on board as part of the process in which policy on this theme is being developed.’
Gerritsen says he’s unable to go into the recommendations in detail. Rona Jualla van Oudenhoven on the other hand can and does. She is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategist at Radboud University and says she agrees with the ‘concrete and detailed’ recommendations of the report. ‘It demonstrates that the students, and we as the university, are on the same wavelength. We’re fighting the same fight.’
When asked what she thinks of Krouwels criticism, Van Oudenhoven emphasises that she understands the frustration. ‘All change goes too slowly. Racism is unfortunately a stubborn problem. But I’m happy to see that the need for change is being felt throughout the entire university. I expect we will see changes in policy soon.’