‘Student representation needs to become more accessible to internationals’
OPINION – The university student council having non-Dutch-speaking members is not enough to achieve Radboud University’s goal of an inclusive and equal culture, according to student party asap. ‘It is possible to meet in the middle.’
For the third year in a row, the university student council (USC) has a non-Dutch-speaking member. However, the joint assemblies, the most crucial part of student participation, are still entirely in Dutch. That means that all policy documents are in Dutch, and an English machine translation usually follows at an unspecified later time. Additionally, only non-native speakers are allowed to speak English. When a Dutch member tried to speak English in a past assembly, they were corrected and told to speak Dutch next time.
The university provides an interpreter, who translates the most important parts of the meetings so that the non-Dutch-speaking member can still follow the conversation. But while the interpreter is a great help, they cannot translate everything in real-time and sometimes have to leave things out. This not only leads to a feeling of exclusion but, at times, also to an actual gap in information. Indeed, excluding individuals seems to be a blind spot when discussing Radboud’s strategy that supports a diverse, equal, and inclusive culture.
But if it only excludes one person, that is not a big problem, right? Why change a whole system that mostly works? On the official website for Radboud In’to Languages, the university already describes itself as a bilingual university with a multilingual campus. By 2025, the university states that its goal is a multilingual campus with communication, where relevant, is available in Dutch and English. Is having a joint assembly entirely in Dutch and shutting people down when they take a stand and speak English really what a bilingual university with a multilingual campus is supposed to look like?
Throughout the year, we spoke with policymakers about increasing the inclusion of non-Dutch-speaking members. Most of the feedback we got was referring to the necessity of a culture change that needs to happen. How to achieve such a culture change? According to the university, more internationals are necessary: from 20 percent of internationals in the student body onwards, there are enough internationals to achieve such a culture change. Right now, Radboud is at 10,6 percent (excluding exchange students) which is far from that.
‘It is not enough to only talk and point fingers’
Until then, there is not much to do. We need to wait. According to the university, until the problem solves itself. Until then, we will simply let every international face the same issues, whether in class, on campus, or in student participation.
Radboud claims they want to be a role model for sustainability in the broadest sense, including social sustainability, such as inclusion and equality. But for this, it is not enough to only talk and point fingers. Someone needs to start, and if the joint assembly is not a good place to do so, then what is? If Radboud wants to create an international and intercultural experience for all students and staff, we need to take a step toward each other and meet in the middle.
Of course, this is a complex issue to solve. There is no one-fits-all solution that will fix everything overnight. If everything were to switch to English, we would run the risk of excluding some Dutch-speaking students and staff similarly to the way internationals are excluded now. Expressing yourself accurately in a second language is not as easy as doing it in your mother tongue. But for most international students, English is their second language too. This means that also for them, English can be a struggle. But to be able to communicate, compromises need to be made. And if everyone is patient and considerate with one another, we will understand each other in the end.
The idea is not that if someone cannot express themselves in English, they will not be heard. But usually, there is someone else in the room who can translate it. This is a system already in practice at the Faculty Student Council of FNWI, where the council consists of multiple internationals. Their meetings are conducted in English, with the meeting switching to Dutch if members of the council are not comfortable expressing themselves in English. A student translator then helps the international members stay involved in the meeting.
‘If everyone is patient and considerate, we will understand each other in the end’
Additionally, when discussing a document from and with our non-Dutch-speaking inclusion officer at the central level of the joint assembly, a similar practice is also already taking place. The discussion is led in English and speaking in Dutch was the exception whenever someone felt they did not get their point across. Then, someone could translate the main message for whoever needed it. It seems possible to have discussions in English and include everyone, enabling Dutch and English speakers to express their opinions.
It is possible to meet in the middle if we make an effort. And remember Radboud’s strategy of having a significant impact, where everyone has a part to play? So let’s play our part and take some of the burdens off of internationals in achieving a diverse and inclusive campus.
Last October, student party asap announced their disbandment. The party will therefore not participate in the upcoming student elections. Between the 30th of May and the 1st of June, students can cast their votes in this year’s student election.
Georg Huppertz wrote on 26 mei 2023 at 23:05
This complaint is becoming such a bore and besides it is really easy to counter the claim that a meeting held in Dutch is exclusionary. This is a Dutch university and the majority of the university is Dutch. Any person aspiring to represent the students of Dutch university should think about which fraction of the students they actually represent if they cannot understand Dutch; a minority. Yes, minority voices should be heard too! But one may also expect some effort from people who want to have the honor of representing the students to put in some effort in understanding the perspectives of others. My experience in more than seven years has been that the Dutch are extremely willing to help out foreigners. The Netherlands is an extremely open county, as no student in the Netherlands is required to learn Dutch. In contrast to Belgium, where students are forced to learn Dutch. Nobody complains, because their studies at the university are widely considered to be worth the effort! Any translation offered is a service to the foreign students and not an entitlement! So please stop complaining that we are not inclusive for not stripping our representative bodies of our native language. It is just not going to happen, albeit only for the legal aspect of a Dutch body producing legally holding and challengeable decisions.