Column of the Diversity Officer: A dialogue about racism

Column of the Diversity Officer: A dialogue about racism

During this year’s European Action Week against Racism, the Diversity and Inclusion Expertise Office joined efforts with colleagues and students around campus to raise awareness and engage in a dialogue about racism.

Can we have an open conversation about racism? What should all staff and students know about racism? What can we do to create an inclusive learning and working environment for all?

Racism is one of the most challenging but also crucial topics of our time. Regardless of personal opinion, it is an issue everyone is confronted with and needs to deal with. As Hester Bijl explained in her interview last year, for staff and students of color, racism is an everyday reality. Racism is ingrained in our thinking, science and everyday practice, regardless of intention, and addressing it requires a cultural change. A number of groups on campus have responded to this call by following a training on racism. There is a clear increase in awareness of the need for a clear framework to ensure a safer and inclusive learning and working environment for all. During the European Action Week against Racism in March 2021, the Diversity and Inclusion Expertise Office engaged with students in a conversation on the topic on social media, explored the meaning of color in the public space, and highlighted the importance of safe(r) spaces and ensuring all voices are heard.

What does it take to have an open conversation about racism? Racism is a complex topic to talk about because it means discussing discrimination and inequality, which touches everyone on a personal level. Differences in views can also stem from different understandings and definitions of racism. During the pandemic, students who are perceived to be of Chinese descent have reported physical and verbal attacks by strangers in public. Racism can take the form of intentional and explicit acts targeting individuals because of their appearance and assumed racial or ethnic identity. A recent report by the Kennisplatform Integratie & Samenleving has documented the nature and impact of Anti-Asian racism on the East Asian community. As a system which creates a hierarchy and systemic inequality based on assumed differences based on race, racism can however can also become expressed in other, less direct forms. While the pandemic has made Anti-Asian racism more visible and explicit, the ideas and assumptions it builds on are not new.

Several activities during the European Action week offered opportunities to reflect, share and discuss the topic. In an online event, Dr. Francio Guadeloupe presented his upcoming publication Black man in the Netherlands and engaged in a discussion with students on the topic of color in the public space. A podcast by students reflected on the documentary by Ida Hoes about the Slavery exhibition at the Rijksmuseum. The Afro Student Association and Space to Talk About Race discussed the activities of their networks and their goals in an article in the University news. In organizing talks, cultural events, as well as safe(r) space meetings, they make an important contribution to an equal and inclusive community.

We were particularly glad to see the active responses to our Instagram posts and stories during the European Action week (@LUdiversity and @universiteitleiden). The responses to stickers and questions provided an impression of where we stand, what understandings we share, as well as issues that require attention. While it was clear that having an open conversation remains a challenge, there were also many encouraging statements on the importance of addressing racism in its many forms. Let’s continue this conversation.