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Dialogue about Racism

Only if we make racism visible can we tackle it
01 April 2021

In recent months, the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences has organised roundtable discussions on racism. Following these discussions, participants of the roundtable discussion on ‘Dialogue about Racism’ came up with a recommendation with possible follow-up steps

Open heartedness of participants much appreciated

We are thankful to the working group for organising the round tables and to the members for their thoroughly prepared memorandum and recommendations. We would also like to express our appreciation for the frank and personal contributions of students and staff members to the discussion tables. We attach much value to an open, self-critical, and engaged dialogue on racism and we note that the discussion tables have visibly contributed to this. We do this in the knowledge that it has not been easy for every participant to express themselves on this subject.

The full report can be found here (In Dutch). The main focus points can be found below. 

Measures to fight racism and discrimination are necessary

The conclusions of the working group show that we are not yet where we want to be: an educational institution where there is no place for racism and discrimination. The Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences is at the heart of our society, a society that is confronted with racism and discrimination. Our school reflects this society. Nevertheless, we find any form of racism in our school unacceptable. Therefore, we will continuously take measures to counteract racism and discrimination.

We want to be a place where everyone feels at home and feels safe to be themselves. Treating each other respectfully is what we stand for. Not every student or colleague has experienced that same respectful treatment, as became clear from the interviews. That is unacceptable. It is all the more distressing because Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences is pre-eminently a place where a great diversity of people can meet, in view of our role in society. And it is also first and foremost the perfect place to offer young people the opportunity to mirror world views and thoughts to one another. A place where they can safely practise for life outside of school, where unfortunately interrelationships are increasingly under pressure.

A collective sense of responsibility will help us move forward

Addressing or fighting this problem is a shared responsibility of all stakeholders: the executive board, directors, deans, managers, students, faculty, and staff. As the Executive Board, we will provide the leadership that will enable this educational community to tackle the issue together. We agree with the working group that a broadly supported sense of urgency is necessary and also note that we ourselves have an important exemplary role to play.

We will follow the concrete advice of the working group

We will fully adopt the first, second and fourth recommendations of the study group. In the coming period, we will give priority to initiating and maintaining the dialogue about racism and discrimination in the school, in the firm belief that the vast majority of our students and staff wish to be part of this coalition against racism. We will not only hold conversations based on reports but will pay continuous attention to the issue (recommendation 1); ensuring more diversity in all layers of the organisation, including in management positions (recommendation 2); and better involving students and staff from different backgrounds (with respect to, for instance, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and functional limitations) in further (policy) development (recommendation 4).

Easily accessible services for reporting of discrimination

An important lesson we have learned from the report is that students and staff members do not know where to turn with complaints or problems related to racism and discrimination. We will therefore ensure that students and staff members can report any form of racism or discrimination they experience in education or in their work situation in an easily accessible manner and in complete confidentiality. This provision is an extension of the current system of the confidential counsellors who are available. We call upon both staff and students to report any form of racism, however difficult that may be.

Active leadership role is necessary

Because of the broad basis of our approach (within the entire RUAS community), we will ask various directors or deans to act as owners of the issue 'fighting racism and discrimination and promoting inclusion' for successive periods. In this way, we will place the issue on the agenda and ensure that it receives the necessary attention at management level. In addition, we will appoint members of staff who can help these directors, and also serve as a source of knowledge for the entire organisation. In doing so, we are adopting the working group's advice to take more central control by placing the control and responsibility at the level of deans and directors and, in addition, by ensuring sufficient expertise and support. The first director to take ownership of the theme will be asked to develop a concrete plan of action to ensure that the necessary improvements can be implemented quickly.

Diligent handling of critical analysis of curricula

With regard to the critical re-examination of the curricula (recommendation 5), we need further advice and discussion in order to arrive at concrete actions. An important principle of higher education and academic research is that the administration is only remotely involved with the content of that education and research. Direct interventions are not appropriate. The Executive Board does have the task of supervising the organisational structure and culture that guarantees sufficient broadness of views, casuistry, and interpretations. A critical review of the curricula requires a careful process that does justice to the professional discourse in the various fields and to the different roles and responsibilities of those involved both internally and externally. The programming of research and the content of education is often a process that also involves external parties, such as communities of lecturers, researchers, and professors. This principle - vital and fundamental to higher education - must be respected. This is an important issue that requires further thought and will be included in the reassessment of our Strategic Agenda. We will seek advice on what approach is desirable and appropriate in this matter.

Finally, we would like to emphasise the following. Only if we make racism visible can we initiate a focused approach. We will therefore continuously discuss the topics racism and discrimination. We will also make ourselves available for discussion with individual students or colleagues, should they hesitate to report their experiences through the regular procedures, to emphasise how much we as board members value this issue.

The Executive Board of Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Ron Bormans
Wijnand van den Brink
Zakia Guernina

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