Introducing a new micro revolution: Students UnDivided

By Dominique van de Kamp         UnDivided is a conference on how to explore diversity and promote inclusion in higher education, organised by a group of students from different universities in the Netherlands. This is a report of the day, which turned out to be the start of a promising dialogue between diversity commissions at different universities.

The conference opened with a sharing of thoughts on the Netherlands’ image as being a tolerant country. “We do not need to be inclusive because we all identify differently. We need to be inclusive because we all live together.” All attendees came from different universities in the Netherlands and Belgium to participate in the first UnDivided conference, held on September 30th in The Hague. It was a Saturday, a free day on which everyone present was willing to invest in making our worlds a little more inclusive.

Photo: Dimitris Meletis

The keynote speaker was Sinan Çankaya, a cultural anthropologist who is known to step outside the academic bubble and express his thoughts on processes of social in- and exclusion. He explained that diversity is ultimately about power relations – and where there is power, there is resistance. His talk focused on micro-revolutions, inspired by the ‘Weapons of the Weak’ by James Scott – about every-day forms of resistance. He showed with telling examples how micro-revolutions can result in something larger. Like Erdem Gündüz, who spent more than six hours standing silently on a square in Istanbul as a protest against the government. He was followed by similar protests from activists all around the world and even went viral as the “standing man” with his own hashtag. Acts like these should be an inspiration to the relatively small audience who wishes to make a big difference.

While the auditorium had fallen silent during Sinan’s talk, Aminata, who initiated Students UnDivided, filled the space with new energy by making everyone sing together. What else could unite more than singing together? She ended the morning by underlining the importance of standing up for our ideals, of contributing to society and making a difference. It is time to act!

The coffee break that followed gave us time to decide which of the 17 workshops to attend. Besides listening to influential speakers, the conference aimed to put inspiration and ideas into practice through the workshops. I will give a sneak peek in two of the workshops which provide some insight in the overall programme:

Workshop 1) On dealing with your privilege

This workshop promised to explore one’s privilege and the responsibilities that come with being an ally to marginalised people. As I felt called out, I decided to join in with this workshop. Within five minutes, it was made clear that this is not about me at all. Being in solidarity with marginalised people is something you do, not a title. A few lessons on being a good ally:

  • Speak up. Let others know when they are being oppressive – and why. When you do, do not use your own narrative or perspective, speak in support of others and never overshadow what- or whoever you are supporting.
  • It is OK to fuck up. We all fuck up, no matter how much we try. When you say something oppressive, do not rush by saying “I am sorry.” Even when you did not intend to, take responsibility and try to understand, then do better next time.
  • Know who to talk to. When feeling guilty about your own privilege, do not talk to people who you feel privileged over. Talk to people closest to you, or talk to people you barely know.

Overall, we could conclude that even when you feel you are already doing your best, take time to reflect and be critical of your learned behaviour.

Workshop 2) Eastern on the outside, western on the inside: challenges of hybrid identities

This workshop did not seem to address me, which was exactly why I thought it was all the more interesting. An inspiring, Iranian young woman who was raised in Germany explored the challenges of growing up between two (or three) cultures and how these challenges can be overcome. It turned out to be a personal, interactive session in which people shared lived experiences about navigating between cultures.

Being one out of two participants without a multicultural background, I have become more aware of the challenges a person faces when your parents have migrated from Morocco, when your family lives in Portugal or when you feel divided by certain beliefs. Dealing with conflicting expectations of parents and your social environment might cause a feeling of insecurity, but it also brings a beautiful, unique perspective on the world we live in, which I think is highly valuable when discussing diversity and inclusion. I have a lot of people around me with hybrid identities, and I know now that I have a responsibility of trying to create an opportunity for understanding and a sense of awareness.

Another participant, Renate, is currently doing research on how to facilitate respectful and compassionate dialogue on taboos and traditions in a hyper-diverse society. If you would like to share your experiences, please send an email to her at renatevanderheijden@live.nl.

Photo: Dimitris Meletis

End note

Universities should aim to become as diverse as the conference was, one day. It was refreshing to be surrounded by so many different people sharing the same ideals. Because of this day, I have realised that even when you think of yourself as an open-minded, tolerant person, there is clearly always room and time for improvement. Maybe even a micro-revolution?

After the workshops, everyone gathered in the main room to share their gained thoughts and ideas.  The UnDivided team will evaluate further on how to work together with universities in the Netherlands and Belgium. Taking responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion at their universities is likely to extend to society as a whole. To quote a well-known anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I would like to encourage anyone interested to attend the next edition in 2018 and get in touch on Facebook.

 

Dominique van de Kamp studied Social and Cultural Anthropology at the VU and volunteered at this conference.

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